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morgan-headshot-inaGAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 16) - The only way Lucas Oil/GEICO Top Fuel dragster driver Morgan Lucas would have enjoyed the NHRA Gatornationals Sunday at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville any more would have been if he ended up in victory lane.

Lucas came up two rounds short of that, but he was all smiles after a semifinal appearance in his first race of 2014.

"It's kinda cool because I've been daydreaming about coming down here and racing since the start of the season," Lucas said. "I'm not used to not testing and not racing full time, so it's just different.

"To come down here and make four out of seven runs down the track and have the chutes out, for a group that hasn't tested and never even worked together, it's kind of a cool thing. It's something to be proud of, and I think we can hold our heads high on this deal."

Lucas stepped out of the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster after the 2014 season to devote more time to newborn son Hunter and to Lucas Oil, but Lucas, 30, still loves to race, planning a part-time schedule this season.

After a rough start on Friday, Lucas and his "tuning committee" of Jeff Edwards and Jack Wyatt -- with an assist from Aaron Brooks, crew chief for Morgan Lucas Racing teammate Richie Crampton -- turned things around.

He qualified No. 14 and had to face Crampton in the first round, but after a Crampton red-light, Lucas advanced with a run of 3.846 seconds at 321.50 mph.

"The car obviously is getting a lot closer," Lucas said. "What's nice about it is it's not so different from Aaron's car. He's been able to call the shots on how we run it. He asked us what we wanted to do first round, and I said, 'I want to improve from what we ran in qualifying,' and we did.

"We ran 3.84 at 321, and it was a good A-to-B run. We did the same thing second round."

In beating Spencer Massey in Round 2, Lucas' pass was 3.841 seconds at 316.82 mph, getting by Massey's run of 3.933 seconds at 314.31 mph.

That put him against Antron Brown in the semifinals, but Lucas' car smoked the tires and slowed to a 5.410 at 132.18 mph while Brown sped to the win with a run of 3.847 at 315.71 mph.

"Semifinals, we just had a little too much wheel speed at the step," Lucas said. "I'm not going to complain about anything. I'm really proud of the whole group. It's cool to see a great white shark Lucas Oil/GEICO car going down the racetrack."

The run to the semifinals began against Crampton, the driver who replaced Lucas in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster. An MLR car was going to the second round no matter what, but Lucas took little joy in it being him.

"It's never fun racing your teammate," Lucas said. "I feel for him, and I've been there. I've red-lit before, and I know what it's like to beat your self up after. Nobody's going to be harder on you than yourself in that situation.

"But one thing I know about him is he red-lit because he was trying to kick my butt on the starting line. As far as I'm concerned, I hope he keeps acting like that. He's going to get it all ironed out, and all these snafus will work out and life will be good."