Pomona: Former winner Stevens ready

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6) -- Two years ago, as his rookie season in NHRA competition drew to a close, a 19-year-old driver by the name of Richie "The Kid" Stevens drove through a crowded field of veteran drivers and became the youngest winner in the...

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 6) -- Two years ago, as his rookie season in NHRA competition drew to a close, a 19-year-old driver by the name of Richie "The Kid" Stevens drove through a crowded field of veteran drivers and became the youngest winner in the history of Pro Stock racing. Stevens was so young, in fact, that he couldn't wear a Winston hat in Pomona Raceway's Winner's Circle or even take a sip of victory champagne.

Now, two full seasons later, Stevens returns to drag racing's birthplace intent on recapturing the crown of the annual Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals and by all indications, his powerful Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird is ready for the task at hand. Including his victory in Seattle eight races ago, Stevens has racked up 21 elimination-round wins this season. In the last three races alone, he's qualified in the top half of the field and won at least one round at every event. He even lowered his career-best elapsed time mark to a stunning 6.836 seconds, the sixth quickest of all-time.

"I think we have a car that can win this race," Stevens said. "I love the track in Pomona and the fact that we've won there before gives us a little bit of an edge. It's important for all of us on this Valspar team to have a solid race and finish the year strong. We need to go into the off-season on a good note.

"This is the last race ever with the Pontiac Firebird body. We'll be switching to a new Grand Am next season. I would love to send this car off with a big win. This old thing has brought us three wins and has always run quick enough to keep me in the Top 10 of the Winston points. It's been a great car for us. It'll be hard to part with it after this season."

To date, Stevens has driven the same car to three national event wins, a national elapsed time record, 61 elimination-round victories, two Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duels, and a pair of 200-mph laps. His impressive on-track record also has earned him three straight Top 10 finishes in the Winston points including this year's projected seventh-place ending.

"It looks like the points race is done," said Stevens, who captured the ninth spot in 1998 and the fifth position last year. "I might as well put lucky No. 7 on the car right now. It's a real credit to my guys, Tommy and John Utt, Vincent Davis, and most of all, my dad, who have given me all the necessary tools to be successful. I'd like to win this race for them."

ESPN2 will broadcast several hours of the 36th annual Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Qualifying highlights will air from 10:30-11:30 p.m. (PT), on Saturday, Nov. 11. Same-day elimination round coverage will be divided into two segments on Sunday, Nov. 12, with the first round airing from 3-4 p.m. (PT) and the finals airing from 7-9 p.m. (PT). A repeat will follow from 10 p.m.-12 a.m. (PT), on Monday, Nov. 13.

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