Pomona: Consistent Stevens ready to conquer field

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 3) -- The final day of qualifying for the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals was a little too warm for the naturally-aspirated Pro Stock set to run drastically improved laps down Pomona Raceway’s smooth quarter-mile strip.

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 3) -- The final day of qualifying for the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals was a little too warm for the naturally-aspirated Pro Stock set to run drastically improved laps down Pomona Raceway’s smooth quarter-mile strip. Instead, most of the gathered pros and their crew chiefs worked on fine-tuning their Race Day set-ups in preparation for tomorrow’s elimination action.

Richie “The Kid” Stevens, the 22-year-old former Pomona winner from New Orleans, recorded two consistent passes down the track today. He opened the day with a 6.938-second blast at 198.85 mph and closed with another 6.938-second run at 199.08 mph. However, his best lap was his Round 1 pass of 6.882 seconds at 200.35 mph, which earned him the No. 8 spot in the elimination field.

“It was hot out there today and the times were down slightly but those two passes I made were the best two of the weekend,” Stevens said. “If I had made either of today’s laps on Thursday when it was cooler, we’d be No. 2 or 3 on the ladder. At least we’re in the top half because that means a lot at this track, especially when it’s hot.”

Stevens received a very lucky break today when fellow competitor Arturo Delgado was disqualified from the race for using illegal heads on his motor. Delgado was one position ahead of Stevens on the ladder before being thrown out, which means Stevens was able to move up a spot. Fortunately, he moved from ninth to eighth place, thereby gaining the crucial advantage of lane choice in the opening round.

“Lane choice is huge here,” Stevens said. “If you look down the qualifying sheets it’s pretty easy to see that most guys had their best laps in the left lane. I open against Robert Patrick. He’s a good driver who is just one thousandth of a second behind me. But lane choice will help widen that gap just a little bit.

“I’m fired up to race. We’ve had a couple of months off and it’s time to get in there and win some rounds. I want to start this season off strong. It’s been great so far. We came here with a new car and we’re in the top half of the field. Now all I need to do is go rounds tomorrow. I just want to win a couple and get myself in a position to win this race.

“I’d love to win but I’d be happy to leave here in the top 10. There’s something about being in the top 10 that gives you so much confidence. Plus, you get that check from Winston every race. That’s some strong motivation. I also like the recognition it gives our team and our sponsors. The top 10 is an elite club.”

The elimination rounds of the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals will air from 8-9 p.m., Sunday, on ESPN, with a rebroadcast from 11 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday, on ESPN2.

-Rob Geiger

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Series NHRA
Drivers Robert Patrick