Gainesville Richie Stevens; Confidence? No problem...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19) -- It was an exciting day of drag racing at the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals for the Valspar Refinish Pro Stock team as driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens logged two thrilling elimination round wins and moved...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19) -- It was an exciting day of drag racing at the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals for the Valspar Refinish Pro Stock team as driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens logged two thrilling elimination round wins and moved up five spots in the Winston championship points standings.

Stevens used impressive reaction times at the starting line to beat veteran Tom Martino and current points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr., thereby earning his first semifinal berth of the season. He then kept the reaction-time streak alive by pummeling Troy Coughlin at the tree in Round 3 but was beaten to the finish line by two thousandths of a second.

The margin of victory was even smaller for Stevens in his opening round win over Martino. He left the line in .441 seconds and ran a 6.933-second lap to Martino's .461-second start and 6.920-second pass. The Valspar car won the race by less than one-thousandths of a second.

"I thought he was gonna catch me," Stevens said. "I saw that car pulling up and I was praying for the finish line to get there. It was great to win one with a hole-shot, especially in the right lane. Only two cars won on that side and we were one of them. We've been bitten a few times lately so it was cool to see one go our way."

Up next for the 21-year-old from New Orleans was current Winston points leader Coughlin. This time Stevens brought the capacity crowd to its feet by beating Coughlin off the starting line [.433 to .467] and to the other end of the track with a stout 6.940-second lap at 197.16 mph to Coughlin's 6.943-second, 198.64-mph pass.

"If you look at that run on the computer it looks perfect," Stevens said. "W.J. and K.J. [engine suppliers Warren and Kurt Johnson] have given us the power to beat those yellow and black cars. Plus, my driving is finally coming around."

The other yellow and black Team Jeg's car, the one driven by Troy, was able to better Stevens on this day in Round 3 even though Stevens carded the best reaction time of the day - .416 seconds. Troy's 6.906-second lap was just enough to nip Stevens' 6.937.

"We still had a great weekend and we've got this Valspar car back where we belong in the points standings," Stevens said. "It would have been great to win but we did get close and that's the next best thing. I'm already fired-up about Las Vegas. Our confidence right now on this team is soaring."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Tom Martino