Chicago Richie Stevens to face WJ again

Stevens to face WJ again CHICAGO (June 5) -- Summertime seemed to arrive overnight at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet and Saturday's resulting hot temperatures zapped the power out of the world's quickest drivers as they continued qualifying for the...

Stevens to face WJ again

CHICAGO (June 5) -- Summertime seemed to arrive overnight at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet and Saturday's resulting hot temperatures zapped the power out of the world's quickest drivers as they continued qualifying for the Second Annual Fram Nationals. The exceptionally high temperatures seemed to keep the track oily and unmanageable for most of the day and the end result was slower times across the board.

Richie "The Kid" Stevens, the driver of the Valspar Refinish Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, could not avoid the various trials and tribulations every pro seemed to encounter on this day. He fought through two slower-than-normal laps and was forced to use his Round 1 pass of 7.026 seconds at 195.68 mph to grab the 15th spot in the qualifying field.

The 20-year-old from New Orleans will now open Sunday's elimination action against 1998 Pro Stock champ Warren Johnson, who has a perfect 3-0 record against Stevens this year. Due to Johnson's superior qualifying lap of 6.964 seconds at 198.70 mph, he will have the additional advantage of lane choice when Sunday's action begins.

"I'd love to get rid of that big zero in my record book and finally beat Warren," Stevens said. "He struggled here just like the rest of us and I watched him get loose in the final qualifying round so he has shown signs of being human here. I have to be tight against him and kill the (starting) tree with a good light. Hopefully he'll falter a little tiny bit and I can sneak a win in there.

"At least I'm not nervous against him any more. I've raced him close so many times that I'm beginning to feel like my time will come. We've been on a real good tear lately and I'd love to keep that alive here."

Valspar Refinish crew chief Tommy Utt explained his car's lower-than-normal qualifying effort. "The one session when everyone was quick (Round 2) is the one where we hurt the engine," he said. "If we had run the way we ran in the other three sessions on Friday night than I'm confident we would be qualified a lot higher up the ladder. But I don't think we're in a no-win situation tomorrow. If Junior can cut a good light and get from Point A to Point B with no mistakes, we can win our opening round race. After that, it's anybody's game."

Stevens opened Saturday's action with a 7.054-second pass at 195.19 mph. "All things considered, that was about as good a run as we could have gotten that lap," Stevens said. "We were working with a brand new motor and I thought Tommy (Utt, crew chief) did a real good job setting the clutch to match what he thought that motor could do. The track just wasn't there."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson