Paden Phillips has plenty of motivation entering the 2020 Lucas Oil Speedway season with a new car to help him pursue a championship goal.
Last season, the Chanute, Kansas driver was the Midseason Champion in the Pitts Homes USRA Modified division. Then a rough second-half stretch doomed him to a still-respectable third-place finish, 72 points behind Robbie Reed and eight behind runner-up Jason Pursley.
"Overall, we were really happy with the season," Phillips said earlier this week. "Obviously, it kind of stunk how we were leading it halfway through and then kind of fell back. The big thing is, it's real tough to win at Lucas Oil Speedway. My last victory there is 2012 in an A Mod. We've been in a long drought."
Phillips said that his thirst for victory might have ended up backfiring.
"Halfway through the season, I was telling my dad and my crew 'we're gonna have to try something different. We're gonna have to win if we're going to win this championship.' We kind of lost some speed after that," he said. "A combination of track conditions and trying some new stuff ... we just didn't have the speed."
Phillips still wound up with five top-five feature finishes and nine top-10s. But consecutive weeks with finishes of seventh, 11th and 15th - plus failing to qualify for the feature at the CMH Diamond Nationals, wiped out his points lead.
"We missed the feature by one spot at the Diamond Nationals and with 60-some cars there, that killed my points," Philips said. "Once you're racing against those guys, Robbie Reed and Pursley, they're going to be up front every week. It's hard to gain back once you lose those points."
But Phillips, 28, said he took momentum into the winter with a feature win at I-35 Speedway to wrap up the year. He also finished ninth in USRA Modified national points and was the USRA Central Region champ.
"So overall, it was one of my best seasons," he said.
Phillips is eager to get going again in a few weeks with a new BillsBuilt race car, replacing his four-year-old vehicle. Phillips plans to pick up his new engine this weekend and start dialing in for the new season.
"The old car was a really good car," he said. "Once you find something that's working, it's hard to change. But it was time for a new car.
"We're looking at running Friday nights at Humboldt Speedway when they are running USRA Modifieds, then trying to chase the points again at Lucas. I'm really excited to get going and getting back into victory lane at Lucas, as well as Humboldt. I've been in a drought there, too.
"Those are my two favorite tracks and I'm ready to get back into victory lane at both."
Phillips, a graduate of Pittsburg State University with dual majors in marketing and management, said he's pleased to have his same sponsor lineup returning. Those include BSB Manufacturing, BillsBuilt Racecars, B2 Race Components, Jarred Gilmore & Phillips PA, Danny Crane Race Engines, Oakwood Coins and Phil's Coins.
The Lucas Oil Speedway season kicks off with the Open Test and Tune on March 28, with the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series opening night set for April 4 with action in all four divisions - Pitts Homes USRA Modified, Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mods, Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Models and O'Reilly Auto Parts Street Stocks.
Season passes for 2020, along with gift cards which can be redeemed in any department of the speedway, are now available. Contact Admissions Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.