Lucas playing for consistency with late-season charge in mind
Friday, March 01, 2013
by Kelly Wade
GEICO/Lucas Oil campaigner Morgan Lucas is off to a respectable start in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series with a recent final-round finish in Phoenix, but the Indiana-based driver, now in his 10th season behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster, isn't taking much time to celebrate any small accomplishments. Rather, Lucas and his Aaron Brooks-led team are carefully pursuing a consistent program that they hope will contribute to an unshakeable foundation when the Countdown to the Championship dawns this fall.
"We're definitely excited about this season because we spent a lot of time over the winter – Aaron, Joe [Barlam, teammate Brandon Bernstein's crew chief], and myself – talking about the philosophy of what it will take to get our team to the next level," said Lucas. "We're confident that we know how to make power and we know how to run fast, but what we didn't have last season was confidence in consistency. We started out like gangbusters with my car and then ran into a slump, and in order to chase a championship, we have to be a regular threat. The only way we're going to be able to do that is to learn how to go down the track all the time. We're getting better, but it's a work in progress."
Last season, Lucas raced to the top spot in qualifying at four of the first six events and won in Gainesville and Houston. Although he hovered near the top of the standings in the first part of the season, by the time the last race of 2012 was in the books, Lucas had dropped to seventh in the series points.
"You can see how critical it is to be consistent, and there are so many good cars out there; there are so many people who can step up and win, so you need all the round-wins you can get, and you need them as soon as possible to make sure you even have a spot in the Countdown," said Lucas. "We want to be as high up there as possible when we get to the Countdown so that we don't have to overcome as much to really chase the championship. That's our focus. We've never really chased a championship before as a team, so we don't really know yet what it takes, but we know that every round-win will get us closer to our goal."
It hasn't quite been smooth sailing from the start – Lucas lost a heartbreaker to David Grubnic in the first round of eliminations at the 2013 season opener in Pomona, and his quick 3.76 would have won had he been in the lane opposite five of the other first-round victors – but the next week at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix, he and his GEICO rail stood out in the first three rounds as he knocked out Clay Millican, Grubnic, and Spencer Massey before bowing out in a final-round pedalfest with Tony Schumacher.
The late-afternoon Schumacher vs. Lucas show was a repeat of the final round in Gainesville last season with, however, flip-flopped results. Last year, Lucas was spectacular at the Florida event, qualifying in the No. 1 position and clocking what was then the second-quickest run in NHRA history (3.743 at 326.87 mph) to easily hold off a tire-smoking Schumacher for the fifth win of his Professional career.
The Mello Yello Series will return to Gainesville in just a couple of weeks for this season's rendition of the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, scheduled to take place March 14-17, and Lucas would like to think that he and his team could add a few more round-wins to the pile at a facility where they have known success. However, he is also realistic about the ever-increasing competitiveness of the field.
"To have a weekend like we had last year in Gainesville, everything has to go your way; we had luck, the team was on, Aaron was on, and I think that was probably one of my better driving jobs of my career," said Lucas, who logged round-wins against Brady Kalivoda, Massey, and Doug Kalitta on his way to the money round and the winner's circle.
"I don't mean this at all in a cocky way, but it just seemed like we couldn’t do anything wrong. It actually surprised me how well we did. Going back this year, it just makes you excited because you know the potential of the car and of the team. We've never won back-to-back seasons at a track, and we'd really like to. It would be a nice place to get our first win of the year. But it will be really hard to repeat and defend that race because we've stepped up, but everyone else in the class has, too.
"There is room for improvement for us, and there will be growing pains along the way, but we're going to run in our comfort zone this year and not try to send out a moon shot just because we want to win. That's the game plan, and hopefully, it will pay off."