Mike Kloeber took over tuning duties for Clay Millican ahead of the 2019 season and helped bring the Parts Plus Top Fuel team to the No. 6 seed at the start of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. That is four spots below where the Straightline Strategy Group team began the 2018 Countdown and not up to the team's own standards. A poor two-race stint in Brainerd and Indianapolis shuffled Millican down multiple places and means the team has its work cut out for it if a championship is in the cards.
That's not impossible if Kloeber's clutch-disc gambit pays off. The crew chief attributes much of the failure from the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals and the Chevrolet Performance Nationals to "mushy clutch discs," and long-time fans know clutch discs can be the difference between tremendous success and complete failure. He received new discs from Boninfante Friction, a company he has a close relationship with and is optimistic about the move.
"We're very optimistic or we wouldn't be doing it," said Kloeber. "We're getting more discs like we had earlier in the year. So, we're lucky we have a really good relationship with Boninfante. Rob has been a dear friend for a very long time and he made us our own batch of discs. He feels for me, I was able to show him and explain what's different, and they've done their best to give us some discs that are gonna be like what we had earlier in the year. So we're, we're not in this alone, you know, our manufacturer has really jumped through some flaming hoops to get us some parts. Because you know, they want us to do as well as we can possibly do."
It's possible, even likely, the ceiling on this team has not been realized yet. Millican has reached four final rounds and not won with Kloeber at the helm in 2019. Those finals came, at least partially, during the building phase of the team's season. Kloeber declared that over.
"It's time to race with our cars, not with our mouths," he said. It was not immediately clear if that was delivered to anyone in particular.
Kloeber is studious, even intense. He said the team needs to stay in its own lane and get back to qualifying in the top five while reaching final rounds. When he doesn't do that, well, the results tell the story.
"We're going to run the race car the way we know how to run the race car, to the best of our ability," he said. "Yeah, you know, we lost the final round [in Denver], because we tried to outrun the other guy. And had we just employed our normal strategy, we would have beat the Capco car and we would have won a race. And you know, it would be a different story about the four final rounds, or five final rounds, or however many final rounds we've been in this year.
"So you know, that's a good example of stay in your own lane, make the best run you can make. And if you get outrun, you're going to get outrun and I'm happy with getting outrun in the final round. If I've made the best run I think I can make, you know, that's part of racing. Championships are made up of being in final rounds. So if you do those things, the points are going to take care of themselves."