Topeka: Suspect track spells doom for Stevens

TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 1) -- Try as he might, Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens of New Orleans couldn't find a smooth way down the suspect right-hand lane of Heartland Park Topeka and the young pro bowed out in the first round...

TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 1) -- Try as he might, Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens of New Orleans couldn't find a smooth way down the suspect right-hand lane of Heartland Park Topeka and the young pro bowed out in the first round of eliminations of the Advance Auto Parts Nationals.

Stevens basically cast his fate during qualifying when he took the No. 10 spot on the ladder with his weekend-best pass of 6.973 seconds at 195.53 mph. The elapsed time placed him in the bottom half of the elimination field and awarded the all-important lane choice edge to his rival Mark Pawuk, who had run a slightly better 6.962 at 196.56 mph.

When the Race Day lights flashed, Stevens gained a huge . 441 to .477-second starting line advantage and was well ahead on the racetrack until he hit the concrete-to-asphalt transition area and his car bounced well off the track, wildly spinning its tires. The loss of traction allowed Pawuk to shoot by for a relatively easy 6.99 to 7.04-second win

"I was telling a friend of mine the other day that this is my least favorite race of the year and nothing happened this weekend to make me change my mind," Stevens said. "The bump killed us, plain and simple. I was well ahead of him and totally had him covered. I didn't even see a glimpse of his car until I hit that spot. Then he just blew by me."

Team owner Richie Stevens Sr. was even less complimentary about the facility. "A drag race is supposed to be two cars going head-to-head on equal ground -- may the best driver win," he said. "But here it's whoever is in the left lane wins. The fuel cars make enough power that they were able to get over that bump so they probably won't change anything. But if you look down the sheets in Pro Stock, everyone in that lane was way off. It's a shame the track operator doesn't fix that problem and give us a fair racetrack."

Despite the first round loss Stevens maintained his seventh place ranking in the Winston championship points standings. There are now four races left on the 2000 NHRA schedule in which he can try to gain ground in the rankings.

"All we can do at this point is worry about next weekend in Memphis," Stevens said. "I'm glad we'll be racing again in a few days so that we can put this all behind us and move on. I'll be happy when we pull out of this track tonight."

The elimination rounds of the 12th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals will air today on TNN from 4:30-6 p.m. (ET and PT).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk