Phoenix: Steady Stevens looks to improve

PHOENIX (Feb. 16) -- Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens had a steady opening day of qualifying at the 17th annual CSK Nationals, running a pair of laps within one-hundredth of a second of each other and grabbing the No. 9...

PHOENIX (Feb. 16) -- Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens had a steady opening day of qualifying at the 17th annual CSK Nationals, running a pair of laps within one-hundredth of a second of each other and grabbing the No. 9 spot on the provisional ladder. Stevens' best pass was 6.927-second effort at 198.73 mph, which he ran in Round 1. He then followed that up with a 6.937 at 198.58 mph in the late session.

"We had a nice pair of runs," Stevens said. "I'm pretty happy with what we did today. The car is leaving real strong but the 60-foot times are still slightly off. It's a new car and that's really the only problem we've had. Once we get it to 60-foot, this thing drives great and really pulls through the second-half of the track. We just need to get the low gear numbers and we'll be right up there at the top of the ladder.

"I feel like the car isn't running anywhere near it's potential, which is really good because where we are now is still pretty solid. I mean, we're No. 9 in the field here and we were No. 8 at the first race. Considering we're still breaking in this car I'm very happy."

Stevens has been rock steady in his new Valspar Refinish Pontiac Grand Am since the season began two weeks ago in Pomona, Calif. He enters this event in the No. 6 spot in the Winston championship points standings and is optimistic about improving his ranking before the end of this race.

"Coming in here I was concerned because this track has been tough on us in the past," Stevens said. "I was thinking about that plus the fact we have a new car and I was a little worried. But the owners of this place have redone the track surface and added several hundred feet of concrete. It's made a huge difference. This track actually has some bite.

"The only downside to a new track surface is that it tends to take awhile to even out. The right lane here is definitely better than the left so our main goal tomorrow is to improve by enough to get us in the top half of the field and earn lane choice. It's very, very important to start Sunday with lane choice. Otherwise we won't be working late. We have to get this Valspar Refinish Pontiac in the top half. It's a must."

Several hours of the 17th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2. Qualifying highlights will be shown from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. (ET), Saturday, on ESPN2. The elimination rounds will be broadcast from 2-3 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN, with additional coverage airing from 6-8 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN2.

-Robert Geiger

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Series NHRA