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Top Fueler Lucas Ready ‘To Scare People’

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 7 2012

Morgan Lucas thinks this could be the year that he and his team challenge for the NHRA Top Fuel championship. (Jason Zindroski photo courtesy of Toyota)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The fun parts have always been there for Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas. The speed, the competition, the atmosphere. However, there have also been the not-so-much-fun parts. The parts which came with unpredictable performance.

The 2012 NHRA season is only two events into its 23-race schedule, but it appears that Lucas and his Lucas Oil Racing Geico/Toyota team have taken major steps toward shaving away some of those not-fun parts. Like those that had made late Sunday afternoons so painful.

“It’s so much more fun to drive the car right now,” Lucas said during a recent telephone interview. “It’s a lot more fun to call the sponors, Toyota, my dad (who owns the team) and say  how we’ve done. We’ve got a fast car now.”

A very fast car. A car that is so fast that ,Lucas says, “It’s going to scare people.”

The car went on display in the season-opening O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona last month. Lucas was fastest in the Top Fuel class in all of the qualifying sessions and headed into the final eliminations in P1.

He started well in elininations – beating Rod Fuller and Shawn Langdon – and blew into the event semifinals. In the semi, against Antron Brown, he left the line well and appeared to be en route to the

Morgan Lucas on his way up. (Mark J. Rebilas photo courtesy of Toyota)

victory and a personal-best ET when his car’s rear end failed.

A couple of personal-best 3.7-second runs during the weekend eased a bit of the hurt as Lucas and his team left California knowing they were a group capable of competing with the likes of Don Schumacher Racing and Al-Anabi Racing.

At Phoenix in Week 2, Lucas’ team suffered a second-round loss to Langdon but did enough good things to head to Gainesville, Fla. this week for the Gatornationals still feeling good-to-great about where his team is vis a vis the teams which have dominated Top Fuel in recent years.

Asked if he thinks the Lucas Oil Racing Geico/Toyota car has taken the next step up, Lucas said, “It does feel like that at this point. We’ve got a winning car and performance. If it wasn’t for a part breaking (at Pomona), we could be on top of the points right now.”

Lucas’ history in NHRA has been pretty darn good.

During his Top Alcohol days, he won 11 events. In 2003, he was division champ and finished second in points nationally.

Lucas moved to Top Fuel for eight races in 2004 and made two-semifinal appearances.

He went full-time in 2005. Since then, the has won four events and has been a Countdown-qualifier the past three seasons.

This year, with some changes to team and personnel, Lucas’ team is confident and competitive.

Among items changed is the crew chief position. Last year, Lucas served as his own tuner the last six races. In the off-season, the team turned to the veteran duo of Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi. Great move, Lucas said.

“We’ve got a really awesome crew but we needed more leadership at the crew chief position. Sometimes we were close but we needed those last few key pieces. Every recipe has a key ingredient and now we have that,” Lucas said.

Lucas also has a new teammate this season. Veteran Brandon Bernstein has come over and for the first time, will be racing for someone other than his father, the legendary Kenny Bernstein.

“It’s not that its just that he’s fun to be around,” Lucas said of his new teammate and good friend, “but he’s got that good experience and, in the business side. He knows what it takes to get to the top. He brings fans in, everything.”

Lucas and the Geico/Toyota team headed to pre-season testing in Florida anxious but cautious after the off-season moves. “We were open-minded. We didn’t know if there would be big growing pains or what.”

But once on the strip, the potential of the revamped team became evident.

“We made stout gains once we got down there,” Lucas said. “We had good runs. As many as in the whole season last year. We were running good from the get-go.”

This Geico/Toyota team will arrive at this weekend’s Gatornationals with a plan in place. The same plan that will be in place all year long. “Build on consistency,” Lucas said.

In the NHRA, plans do go wrong. They could in Gainesville.

But whatever happens, Lucas said, still feeling very good about the first two weekends of 2012, “People know we’re on the radar now.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 7 2012
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