Pomona Richie Stevens Braces for Race Day

Stevens stays in top half, braces for Race Day POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 13) -- After four rounds of grueling qualifying action, 21-year-old Valspar Refinish driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens managed to stay in the top half of the field of drivers ...

Stevens stays in top half, braces for Race Day

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 13) -- After four rounds of grueling qualifying action, 21-year-old Valspar Refinish driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens managed to stay in the top half of the field of drivers challenging for the title of the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Stevens' opening round lap of 6.928 seconds at 198.00 mph proved to be his best of the weekend and earned the New Orleans native the No. 8 position on the ladder.

The top-half berth means Stevens will now open Sunday's elimination action with lane choice over challenger Mike Thomas, who ran a 6.932-second lap at 198.03 mph to finish qualifying in the ninth position.

"I'm glad we stayed above the cutoff point," Stevens said. "Lane choice is always good to have and it really means a lot at this track. I know Mike will be going after me. He's fighting for points just like we are and this is a last-chance deal for all of us. It should be an exciting first round. The whole day will be like that. The fans will get their money's worth tomorrow."

Stevens' worst lap of the weekend came in Round 4 when he ran a 6.95-second pass. But that pass would still have been good enough to get in the competitive field, a testament to the Valspar cars' consistent tune-up.

"The air bottles that control the shocks were leaking that time," Stevens said. "And there was some fire coming in the cockpit too, but if a 6.9 is your worst lap of the weekend it's hard to complain. The Valspar car will be ready for action tomorrow and I'm excited about defending my championship. This is my race until some one takes it away."

Stevens posted a steady 6.934-second pass at 197.62 mph in Round 3. "It was a little hotter out there and that slowed us just a tad," Stevens said. "But that was the third straight lap down this track that was nice and quick. This Valspar Refinish car is running so consistently that it seems like a bracket car.

"In my opinion, Tommy Utt should win Crew Chief of the Race right now. He has nailed the clutch set-up every lap and that's awesome. I know we have a car that can go down either lane in a competitive time and that takes a lot of pressure off me as a driver."

Don Beverley, who was driving Stevens' back-up car this weekend, failed to make the show. His best lap of 6.977 seconds at 198.64 mph was .014 seconds off the pace.

ESPN2 will televise two hours of Big Bud Shootout action at 2 p.m. and one hour of final-round coverage at 7:30 p.m. (CST) on Sunday, Nov. 14.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas