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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 16) - The learning curve for GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster driver Richie Crampton hit a speed bump during the first round of the NHRA Gatornationals on Sunday at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.

Crampton, a rookie in Top Fuel, left a touch too soon in his matchup with Morgan Lucas Racing teammate Morgan Lucas, allowing his team owner and the man he replaced in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster to get the win.

"I flat-out made some rookie errors up there," Crampton said. "The car didn't want to roll real fast, I was a little relaxed on the brake handle, and I turned the top bulb right on well ahead of time, which kind of got me out of sequence."

The accidental double-bulb threw Crampton off, and he left .040-second too soon. Crampton continued with the run, a 3.802 at 321.19 mph that would have been quicker than Lucas' pass of 3.846 at 321.50 mph.

"Experienced drivers roll with those punches," Crampton said. "I'm still learning a lot, and I know how bad that stings, to let my team down running fourth-fast for the session and going home. I really hate that for GEICO, Lucas Oil, and Toyota. They got behind me as a rookie driver, and I've been trying to do my best to uphold my end of the bargain and do a good job for them.

"I'm pretty disappointed with myself. I'm going to beat myself up for a little while about it and then try and move on. The biggest thing is to learn from it."

Crampton becomes a spectator for the Gatornationals, though the former MLR crewmember immediately headed to Lucas' pit to see if he could lend a hand.

"I'm very interested to see how Morgan goes for the rest of the day," Crampton said. "He's got a great race car over there right now. If I had to lose to anyone, it's a good thing that it was Morgan. I think he's going to have a good day today."

Crampton, meanwhile, looks forward to the NHRA Nationals on March 28-30 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after qualifying No. 3 here in Gainesville.

"(Crew chief) Aaron (Brooks) and the entire GEICO team have this race car running really good," Crampton said. "We had a lot of good numbers this weekend, and I'm very happy with how we qualified. We had a car that could've gone rounds on race day.

"I'm very anxious to get to Vegas and put this last run behind me."