Reading: Quick pass earns Stevens a top-half berth

READING, Pa. (Sept. 15) -- Continuing a trend he has followed all season, Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens turned his performance up a notch Friday when the world's quickest and fastest drivers set one of the quickest ...

READING, Pa. (Sept. 15) -- Continuing a trend he has followed all season, Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens turned his performance up a notch Friday when the world's quickest and fastest drivers set one of the quickest provisional qualifying fields of the season.

Stevens, a 21-year-old from New Orleans, ran the opening session's third quickest elapsed time -- 6.928 seconds at 197.86 mph -- and used that mark to hold on to the No. 8 spot in the class. Every professional competitor at the 16th annual Keystone Nationals, including Stevens, will have two more chances to improve on their posted times during Saturday's final two qualifying sessions.

"We're always happy when we start a race weekend with a lap like that," Stevens said. "Credit Tommy and John (Utt, crewmen) for getting this Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird ready for this track and the conditions we had today. The weather and the track surface got better and better as the day went along and they nailed the set-up.

"Maple Grove Raceway used to be a tricky track to get down because it was a little uneven down track where it turns from concrete to asphalt. But the track operators have ground the surface down and smoothed it out quite a bit. That certainly helped everyone put up the numbers we saw in both sessions. In the past, you'd hit those bumps and the car would come right off the track, which caused the tires to spin like crazy. It's hard to go fast when your wheels aren't on the ground. But that didn't happen today."

The annual Keystone Nationals traditionally mark the start of the fall season when cooler temperatures help the 1,200-plus horsepower Pro Stock machines make maximum power. With highs throughout the weekend forecasted to be in the 60-degree range, this weekend's event appears to be no exception.

"We love this time of the year because this Valspar car makes a lot of power," Stevens said. "The summer months can be tough because you are constantly fighting the track conditions. I don't think we'll have that problem any more.

"We want to finish this season strong and to do that we'll have to run quick at every track. This race has started good for us and I hope we can continue to run fast tomorrow and Sunday. Our confidence continues to stay at a pretty high level."

Same-day television coverage of the 16th annual Keystone Nationals will air from 9:30-11:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Sept. 17, on ESPN2.

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