Phoenix: Tricky track sidelines Stevens early

PHOENIX (Feb. 18) -- Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens did everything he could to beat reigning Winston champ Jeg Coughlin in the opening round of the 17th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals, but he just couldn't beat a questionable...

PHOENIX (Feb. 18) -- Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens did everything he could to beat reigning Winston champ Jeg Coughlin in the opening round of the 17th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals, but he just couldn't beat a questionable racetrack. The end result is that Stevens' winless streak in the Arizona desert will continue for at least one more year.

"I said coming in to this race that I didn't like this track and my opinion hasn't changed much," said Stevens, who slipped to 11th in the Winston championship points standings. "They made some improvements and the track looks like it will get better over time but it wasn't very equal today. Lane choice was the difference. As you can see, no one won out of the left lane. How is that fair?"

Stevens certainly did his job. He posted a stellar .420-second reaction time -- the best of the entire opening round -- and led the first portion of his race against Coughlin. But the suspect left lane and it's extremely narrow groove pushed his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Grand Am towards the centerline. Once it left the groove the tires began to spin, allowing Coughlin to drive by for a 6.931 to 6.961-second win.

"Almost every track has a lane that is slightly better than the other," Stevens said. "But some of them are ridiculous. About 300 feet into that run I started to get out of the groove. It upset the car and there was really nothing I could do. The groove is so narrow that you can't just yank it back in. You just have to drive it out and see what happens. The problem is that one tire gets out of the groove and starts spinning and the other one still has traction and pushes the car even further out. Then you're done.

"Credit Jeg. He drove a good lap. He always does against me. I guess it's a compliment that he gets so fired up every time we race. Even when I leave on him like I did today he's right there behind me waiting for a chance.

"I'm anxious to get out of here and move on to Gainesville. That's one of the best tracks we go to and I've always done well there. We'll be painting our car in between races so we'll have a new look, which is exciting for all of us. Hopefully, we'll find time to test also because whenever you paint a car you want to make sure nothing gets into the wiring that could cause a problem.

"So far, I'm not to upset with our start to this season. We've qualified for both races and won a round. I just wish we could have stayed in the top 10, but we slipped out by six points. At least now we have a clearly defined goal for Florida."

Today's elimination rounds will be broadcast from 6-8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2.

-Robert Geiger-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin