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Lucas Hopes To Bounce Back Upward In Topeka

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 17 2012

Morgan Lucas and his team have had their ups and downs this year. This weekend, they head to Topeka for the Dollar General Summer Nationals. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Pope)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The subject of weather is often little more than fodder for filling awkward pauses during conversations. But on Wednesday afternoon, Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas slowly lowered his fork-full of tasty barbeque and opened his his wide when the upcoming weekend’s weather entered the conversation.

Because as has gone the weather this NHRA season, so, too, have gone Lucas’ on-track fortunes. His Geico/Lucas Oil team, he said, has been having trouble adapting setups to weather and as a result, consistently good finishes at national events have been tough to corral.

So, weather reports, Lucas said, get him “a little nervous”.

Lucas, his team and his crew chief, Aaron Brooks, think they should have a lesser level of nervousness when they arrive in central Kansas to compete in the Dollar General Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka this weekend.

Simply because of predictable late-sprint weather in Kansas.

“This track, I think you know what to expect when you come in here,” Lucas said. “It’s usually a warm-weather kind of event. That kind of puts your mind in the right place and your not worried about it. Like

Morgan Lucas hoping for seasonal weather at Heartland Park. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

in Texas, the clouds can come in and cool off or it can stay hot. It’s one of those things where you always have to be worried about the weather.

“The weather here, you know it.”

Lucas and his team could use some consistent weather – and on-track performance – at Heartland as the spring months of 2012 have been about as frustratingly inconsistent as it gets in racing.

The team started the season pretty well. It qualified first at Pomona before losing in the semifinals. At the next event, at Firebird in Phoenix, it lost in the quarterfinals.

In week three, Lucas hit big. He qualified on the pole and then was perfect on Sunday at the Gatornationals in Gainesville. At Las Vegas in week four, he again won the pole before losing in the semifinals.

At the Four-Wides in Charlotte, the roller-coaster again headed down. Lucas qualified 14th and lost in the opening round. The team rebounded the following event when it won Houston from the pole.

Then, down again last time out in Atlanta. Lucas qualified 13th and was ousted in the first round on Sunday.

“The consistency hasn’t been there yet because it’s still a new program to Aaron,” Lucas said, referring to the crew chief who joined the team this year.

Brooks had spent his previous turning several stints in Funny Cars.

“He’s been a Funny Car crew chief so long and when you come to a dragster, you have to learn the range of how far you have to back them off. When your talking 8,000 horsepower, it’s all application to the race track surface.

“On consistency, I would say we are about half way there. But it’s a long road.”

That road is crowded with other Top Fuel operations who have been making passes and gathering data for much longer than the young GEICO team.

Most notably, the team of Don Schumacher Racing. Of the five losses Lucas has had in eliminations this season, four have been to DSR cars and drivers.

“We’re racing teams which have been collecting data for years,” Lucas said. “If you look at this as a long-term proposition, we’re going in the right direction. We just have to keep making runs and learn from everything we do. As long as we’re learning, we’re making progress. I feel right now, we have as good, if not the best car in good weather conditions.”

Ah, the weather again. Heat and humidity affect all forms of racing but, perhaps, nitro dragsters more than any other series because of the of finicky clutch applications and difficulty in transferring all that horsepower to the track surface.

“It’s all about who can get down the track when its at the worst conditions,” Lucas explained. “You kind of have a crap shoot some times and we’re getting into the time of year where we’re going to have a lot of races like this.”

The forecast for the weekend in Topeka is for high temperatures in the upper 80s with clouds on Saturday and a chance of rain on Sunday.

Cool for the Heartland stop but, perhaps, good for Lucas and his team.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 17 2012
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