Pomona: Stevens starts near front

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 11) -- As soon as Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens climbed out of his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird after Friday's sole qualifying session at Pomona Raceway, he immediately proclaimed that the 6.918-second lap he...

POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 11) -- As soon as Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens climbed out of his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird after Friday's sole qualifying session at Pomona Raceway, he immediately proclaimed that the 6.918-second lap he had just posted could be bettered. Saturday, as qualifying for the 36th annual Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals drew to a close, he proved his point.

Stevens, a 22-year-old, third-year pro from New Orleans, ran a spectacular 6.884 at 199.02 mph in Round 3 to solidify his position near the top of the final Pro Stock elimination ladder. He now enters Race Day in the No. 3 position and will enjoy the advantage of lane choice over first-round opponent Larry Morgan, who qualified in the 14th spot after a weekend-best pass of 6.914 at 199.05 mph.

"If I could ever get this car to go straight down the lane we'd be No. 1," Stevens said with a laugh. "There is still more left in this Valspar Pontiac but for some reason it seems to want to go left when I launch. I don't know what it is and we probably won't chase after it too much because everything else is perfect.

"We're in a real nice place right now. Every qualifying lap has been good and every one has been better than the one before. We're firmly in the top half of the field and we have lane choice going into eliminations. That's not bad at all."

This event is the final one of the 23-race NHRA season. Stevens is currently in seventh place in the Winston championship points standings, a position he will most likely hold on to through the conclusion of the year. Stevens has now logged three Top 10 finishes during his three years in the sport. He was ninth in 1998 and fifth last season. He also has three national event wins in six final-round appearances.

"It's nice to win any race," Stevens said. "But to win this one would be something special. The races in Pomona always seem to have an extra little something about them. I think it's because this is where drag racing started. There is so much history at this track and in this area of the country.

"We would also love to go into the off-season with a win to get us ready for this busy winter break. We'll be switching to a totally new car design, just like everyone else, and I'm sure it's going to feel a lot like starting over from scratch to a certain extent. This is the last party for this old Firebird so we have to send her off with a win."

Same-day elimination round television coverage will be divided into two segments tomorrow on ESPN2. First-round action airs from 3-4 p.m. (PT) with the finals running from 7-9 p.m. (PT). A repeat will follow from 10 p.m.-12 a.m. (PT), on Monday.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Morgan