Phoenix Riche ''The Kid'' Stevens Qualifying Story

PHOENIX (Feb. 26) -- Showing a flair for the dramatic, Valspar Refinish driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens waited until his final qualifying pass of the weekend to earn a spot in the extremely competitive Pro Stock field. Adding an exclamation...

PHOENIX (Feb. 26) -- Showing a flair for the dramatic, Valspar Refinish driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens waited until his final qualifying pass of the weekend to earn a spot in the extremely competitive Pro Stock field. Adding an exclamation point to the process was the fact that Stevens' impressive Round 4 blast marked the biggest improvement of the day throughout the professional categories.

"That was the smoothest run of the year for us," said Stevens, who actually jumped from out of contention to the top half of the qualifying field. "We were all pretty nervous in the Valspar pit. I was nervous, [crew chief] Tommy [Utt] was nervous, my dad was nervous. What a great feeling to put down a lap like that."

The 21-year-old from New Orleans flew down Firebird International Raceway in 6.929 seconds at 197.51 mph to earn the No. 8 spot in the field of the 16th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals. By qualifying, Stevens extends his impressive streak of consecutive races to 22 events, second only to five-time champion Warren Johnson.

"We left the pit knowing we had done all the right things to make us run well, but you just don't know until you do it. I wanted to get in so bad I drove way past the finish line just to make sure I got everything out of this Valspar car.

"Warren [Johnson] gave us the horsepower we needed. It was there all weekend. We just had to get the car squared away and we didn't do that until Round 4."

Stevens' Round 3 lap of 6.965 seconds at 198.17 mph was a big improvement over his two Friday passes, the best of which was a 6.987-second, 197.28-mph run. Despite the improvement he slipped out of the field at that point by one spot and 0.005 of a second.

"The good news that lap was that we could see the changes we made to the suspension were working," Stevens said. "The Valspar car drove right through the middle part of the track, which is exactly what we needed to have happen. The problem was that the car went left when it launched and it just stayed out of the groove too long. We definitely gave up some time there."

Stevens will open Sunday's Race Day action with lane choice over Greg Anderson, who qualified ninth with a 6.939 at 198.88 mph. The two men have not met this year.

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