MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Oct. 10) -- The weekend just keeps getting better and better for Valspar Refinish pro Richie "The Kid" Stevens. The 21-year-old sophomore driver has powered his way into his fourth final-round appearance of the year and he's now...
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Oct. 10) -- The weekend just keeps getting better and better for Valspar Refinish pro Richie "The Kid" Stevens. The 21-year-old sophomore driver has powered his way into his fourth final-round appearance of the year and he's now vying to win his second national event of the season and third of his career.
The 12th annual AutoZone Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park certainly had a dubious start, with two straight days of rain playing havoc with the schedule-makers. But once Sunday arrived and the sun started shining, Team Valspar stepped to the forefront with three consecutive wins over veteran drivers John Nobile, Steve Schmidt and Kurt Johnson.
The semifinal race has been the most exciting so far. After nearly identical starts -- .451 for Stevens and .448 for Johnson -- the two men stayed in each other's shadows all the way down the track until the last few hundred feet when Stevens edged away for a three-foot win. The final numbers saw Stevens cross the finish line in 6.928 seconds at 197.59 mph against Johnson's 6.943-second, 198.61-mph pass.
"I didn't see him until I pulled the chutes and he went by me," Stevens said. "I knew we were close. I could sense that he was over there. I was praying for that win light to come on. When it did, it was celebration time.
"This Finish Line engine we rent from Mike Thomas is so stout. I thank him and his engine builders Jim Oliver and Tom Roberts. This is the motor we won with earlier this year and it's finally back where it was then. It just loves this Valspar car."
Stevens downed Schmidt in the quarterfinals with a fairly easy 6.965-second lap at 197.16 mph against Schmidt's 7.066-second, 196.42-mph lap. "That was our third lap of the day and it felt just as good as the other two," Stevens said. "They were all very similar. Nice and straight with the car going right down the groove. Tommy (Utt, crew chief) is doing an awesome job of reading the track and making the necessary adjustments to the Valspar car."