New deal, car has Stevens pumped

POMONA, Calif. (Jan. 29) -- With a new sponsorship contract from Valspar Refinish in hand, a deal which extends his relationship with the company to three years, and a brand new 2001 Pontiac Grand Am in his trailer, Pro Stock driver Richie "The...

POMONA, Calif. (Jan. 29) -- With a new sponsorship contract from Valspar Refinish in hand, a deal which extends his relationship with the company to three years, and a brand new 2001 Pontiac Grand Am in his trailer, Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens is primed and ready for the NHRA Championship Drag Racing season to start. The battle begins Thursday in Pomona, Calif., with the opening of the 41st annual Winternationals.

The 2001 season, the 50th in the history of the NHRA, will be the fourth professional campaign for Stevens, a 22-year-old driver from New Orleans. He already has three national event victories to his credit as well as three Top 10 finishes in the Winston championship points standings. This year, Stevens will sport lucky No. 7 on his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Grand Am, which reflects his seventh place finish in 2000.

"Seven has always been my number so I know we're going to have some good racing luck this year," said Stevens. "We're ready to get after it. I'm anxious to start the season strong. We've won at Pomona Raceway before (winning the 1998 NHRA Finals) and I'd love to repeat there. It would be huge for us to start the season with a real strong race."

Due to changes in NHRA rules, all Pro Stock competitors have the option of updating their programs to include new car designs. In Stevens' case, he has switched from a Pontiac Firebird to a Pontiac Grand Am.

"It's a little scary making a major change like this," said Stevens, who tested his new car extensively in Houston over the past week. "We've run as many laps as possible since we took delivery of the Grand Am last week but there are still plenty of unknowns. I knew the Firebird inside and out. I knew the limits of that car. We haven't pushed the Grand Am to the edge yet. Once we get in a race and win some rounds I'll feel better.

"We're ready to race this car. It runs straight down the track, which is always the No. 1 thing you worry about with a new car. It's also way more aerodynamic and I know it'll be quicker and faster when we put our race motor in there. All the teams with new cars are in the same position we're in, which is good. We're all trying out something new.

"I expect we'll be in the top group running with the other Top 10 teams when we get to Pomona. We measured up pretty good in Houston with the top guys and we were using our test motor. Still, I know we'll all feel better in the Valspar pit once we win something."

Several hours of the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2. Qualifying highlights will be shown from 9:30-11:30 p.m., Saturday, on ESPN2. The elimination rounds will air from 8-9 p.m., Sunday, on ESPN, with a rebroadcast from 11 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday, on ESPN2.

-Robert Geiger

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