Like a red-hot blackjack player who is making solid bets and not getting too greedy, NHRA Top Fuel racer Morgan Lucas says his focus these days is all about building on momentum.
After posting back-to-back 10th-place points finishes the past two seasons, Lucas came into the 2012 season looking for a fresh start with his GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel team. He hired a new crew chief tandem of Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi, and the results three races into the season have been extremely positive.
Lucas powered to an impressive victory three weeks ago at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com in Florida, recording the second-quickest run in NHRA history in the process. His final-round performance of 3.743 seconds at more than 326 mph blew away seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher in the head-to-head final-round race.
He will try to carry the momentum from that impressive performance into Las Vegas for this weekend’s SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, March 30-April 1 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
“Winning Gainesville was intense,” Lucas said. “It was so much fun to win the way we did. It was great to see everyone so happy. We had people from GEICO there that weekend, and they had a good time. It was just an exciting event all the way around. The car ran so well in qualifying, and it seems like we’re building some serious consistency. Whenever you feel like you can be competitive at any point and have the potential to win any race, that is what makes it fun.”
Lucas says he could see the potential with the team’s new chemistry at the first race of the season in February when he qualified No. 1 and advanced to the semifinals. Putting it all together for one weekend is one thing, but continuing to build on it week after week what his team has been lacking in recent years and is what is most satisfying for Lucas.
“You always hope that when you make a big change like this, things are going to go perfectly,” Lucas said. “Our whole intention from the beginning was to get Aaron and Rod acquainted with all the guys and do what we needed to do for the big picture of chasing a championship. The car is just doing what Aaron is telling it to do. At this point, my expectations for the first three races have been surpassed by a long shot. It makes me excited for the back half of the year. Right now, we can win any race if the conditions are right. Once we get some laps in hot weather, things are going to be just that much better.”
Lucas says Brooks, who spent time with Alan Johnson’s Top Fuel operation among other stops during his tuning career, brings a great confidence to the team.
“What I like about racing with Aaron is that he’s aggressive, but it’s not a cocky kind of aggressive,” Lucas said. “These cars can batter a crew chief’s confidence, but he knows and is confident in his capabilities. I also think he trusts my ability and my feedback, which makes for a good combination. It’s a team effort out there, and every single person on the team knows they can give their opinions to Aaron and he’ll listen.”
The union couldn’t have come at a better time for Lucas. A host of tough challengers make up the Top Fuel division, with Schumacher, Brown, Spencer Massey, Shawn Langdon, rookie Khalid alBalooshi, Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Bob Vandergriff Jr., and Steve Torrence very capable of winning rounds, races, and championships.
“The competition is as good as it’s been in a long time,” Lucas said. “The recession hurt the sport, but I think it’s starting to rebound. You are starting to see a lot more cars on tour and more cars with the potential to win races. I think our teammate Brandon Bernstein can win the next race. The MavTV car is great right now, but to win, things have to fall your way. It makes it exciting, and I don’t think there’s going to be one person who’s going to run away with it. It’ll be a fight all the way to the end.”
And there’s no place better than Las Vegas for a good fight. It’s only the fourth race of the season, but as far as Lucas is concerned, confidence and momentum are gained each and every week.
“I love all the Bruton Smith racetracks and think they do a great job promoting this race,” Lucas said. “Las Vegas is the race with the most international flavor. Las Vegas, more than any other place, draws more racers and fans from around the world. It’s cool to visit with those people. I’d love to win there because I think there’s some unfinished business from that final back in 2004. However, as long as we keep building on this momentum, we’ll be happy.”
In Funny Car, Mike Neff hasn’t won a race yet but is leading the points based on a couple of runner-up finishes. Hight is riding a two-race winning streak in his Auto Club Ford Mustang and hopes to defend his event title. High-profile rookie drivers Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria have been receiving much of the attention early in the season, but veterans Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Jack Beckman, Johnny Gray, Jeff Arend, and defending world champ Matt Hagan are all among the top challengers in the class.
Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who drive for Las Vegas native Ken Black’s Pro Stock team, will be the favorites in the 200-mph factory hot rod division. Defending event champ Edwards also won at the most recent event, in Gainesville, and moved into second place in the series standings. Anderson, who has advanced to all three finals with one win this season and leads the points standings, has won this event three times and has seven wins at LVMS behind the wheel of his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP. Others to watch in Pro Stock include Allen Johnson, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile, Rodger Brogdon, Greg Stanfield, Kurt Johnson, and Larry Morgan.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 30, and 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 31. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 1.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the 13th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, call The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 800-644-4444, or log on to LVMS.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 31. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 1.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The 13th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on March 30. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on March 31 and continue through April 1.