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Rookie driver Crampton has high comfort level with GEICO team

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POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 4) - GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster driver Richie Crampton will make his first professional pass at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals this weekend in Pomona, but in many respects he's no rookie.

Crampton, a 33-year-old from Adelaide, Australia, has been an integral member of the Morgan Lucas Racing team for several years. He's changing jobs this season as he takes over the driver's seat from Morgan Lucas, but Crampton will be comfortable there.

"One of the biggest things I have up my sleeve is the fact that I've worked with this team for so long," Crampton said. "The team chemistry is there. I've seen the way this team operates, and I paid close attention to how Morgan goes about handling things during the race weekend as a driver. I think the fact that I've been around it for so long is probably my biggest benefit."

Crampton is stepping into a car prepared by a winning race team. Lucas won twice and finished fourth in the points standings last year, but the team still built a new car for Crampton this season.

"I was able to get 24 more runs under my belt and got some very valuable seat time (during testing in Florida) and learned a lot about what my mind-set needed to be with how to go about rolling into the racetrack as a driver instead of a crewmember," Crampton said. "Beyond that the car ran great numbers. It was 3.800 for me, which felt excellent to get that run under my belt because that was a huge confidence builder. (Crew chief) Aaron Brooks made some good calls with a brand-new race car that we brought out for the test session, and my confidence was pretty high after that."

Part of his confidence comes from his relationship with team owner Lucas, who stepped out of the driver's seat but not away from the race team. Crampton continues to lean on Lucas for advice in handling the 8,000-horsepower race car.

"The biggest thing with Morgan is he's one of my best friends, and there's just never been pressure," Crampton said. "I kind of made a rookie mistake and two-stepped it in Florida and kind of wasted a run, and I thought, 'Uh, oh, I might be in trouble here,' and it was quite the opposite.

"It was just real supportive, good feedback. The fact that he has driven at the top level for so long, he's able to put it into words very well what you need to be feeling and thinking and how to drive these cars because there is definitely an art to it. I'm definitely going to be relying on Morgan throughout the season to help me get better. I just hope that I can fill his shoes."

Qualifying begins with sessions at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., Friday, and concludes with two more rounds at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., Saturday. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m., Sunday. Qualifying TV coverage airs from 8-10 p.m. Pacific, Saturday, on ESPN2. Eliminations will be shown from 5-8 p.m. Pacific, Sunday, on ESPN.