Columbu: Team Valspar stays hot

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 16) -- A torrential rain storm complete with lightening and thunder ended the opening day of the 36th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals prematurely, but not before Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens...

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 16) -- A torrential rain storm complete with lightening and thunder ended the opening day of the 36th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals prematurely, but not before Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens stormed the field. In the day's only qualifying session Stevens recorded a lightening-quick, quarter-mile pass of 7.036 seconds at 194.69 mph to thunder into the No. 5 spot on the provisional ladder.

"It feels great to come out and be one of the front-runners right from the opening session," said Stevens, a 21-year-old from New Orleans. "We've been playing it awfully close over the last few races, qualifying in the final round to make the field. But I think we've got the car sorted out better and it showed today on the track.

"(Crew chief) Tommy (Utt) took this Valspar Pontiac back to the shop after Chicago and reworked the back end a little bit. We've been dragging at the top end and he changed the spoiler around to fix the problem. It sure feels and looks like he's done the right thing."

Stevens, and the rest of the assembled pros -- including 37 Pro Stock entries, are scheduled to have two more qualifying sessions Saturday. However, the storm system that ended this day's action appears to be staying in the area throughout the weekend.

"I hope we at least get enough of a break in the weather tomorrow to get one more session in the books," Stevens said. "Then the NHRA can set the field and we can rest easy. We'd love to stay up front like we are now. The thing is this weather might cool everything down and make it really quick for everyone. We'll have to be ready to take advantage of the situation because there are a lot of good cars behind us.

"I think we can improve some. The car did bounce around so I know if we get another chance we can make a better pass."

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