Columbius: Richie Stevens ready to take control

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 8) -- During last year's visit to historic National Trail Raceway for the annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens was in a season-high third place in the Winston championship points ...

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 8) -- During last year's visit to historic National Trail Raceway for the annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens was in a season-high third place in the Winston championship points standings. This year, the 21-year-old from New Orleans is hoping to reach that plateau again by driving his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird to the event's winner's circle on June 18.

Stevens arrives in the Buckeye State in eighth place in the super-tight points standings. With a win in Kirkersville, he could ascend as high as third place for the fourth time in his professional career. Overall, the third-year pro has logged two top 10 finishes in the championship points. He ended his rookie year in ninth place and last season in fifth.

"It's time to take charge of this points race," Stevens said. "There has been a big group of us fighting it out in the middle of the top 10, swapping places every race. No one has made a big move. I think it's time for us to win a race and move to the front of this pack.

"We've won rounds in Columbus before so I know this Valspar Pontiac Firebird knows the quick way down the strip. For some reason over the last few races we've been a tick slower than normal when the car gets up to speed. So we changed the rear wing quite a bit and I think that will help us a bunch. Plus, Warren (Johnson) has freshened our motor up so we will be in top shape by the time the race starts."

The 2000 season has been another great year for Stevens. He already has reset his career-best elapsed time and top speed, qualified for and competed in the Holley Dominator Duel, and extended his qualifying streak to 30 consecutive races, which is currently the second longest streak in the Pro Stock class. He has also won eight elimination rounds on race day, reaching the semifinals twice.

"I think we're running a lot better this year," Stevens said. "We're definitely more consistent and our qualifying efforts have been really strong. It's funny because we're actually a few spots lower in the points than we were at this time a year ago but we definitely have a better program all the way around. As hard as we've been working I know the breaks will start to come our way just like they did last year. It's time to win and I'd love to take the title of Pontiac's big race. They've been good to us and I'd like to return the favor."

ESPN2 will broadcast several hours of the Columbus event. Qualifying highlights will air from 7:30-9:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, June 17. Same-day race coverage will start with first-round action from 1:30-2:30pm (ET) and semifinal and final-round action from 5-7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 18. A rebroadcast of the elimination rounds will air later that day from 9:30-11:30 p.m. (ET) and again from 2:30-3:30 a.m. (ET) on Friday, June 23.

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Series NHRA