Pomona: Stevens still 'breaking in' his new ride

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 2) -- Slightly warmer temperatures kept the Pro Stock field in check today as qualifying for the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals continued with another round of action. Upstart Richie "The Kid" Stevens, the 22-year-old ...

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 2) -- Slightly warmer temperatures kept the Pro Stock field in check today as qualifying for the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals continued with another round of action. Upstart Richie "The Kid" Stevens, the 22-year-old former Pomona champ from New Orleans, couldn't improve on his Round 1 pass of 6.882 seconds at 200.35 mph and slipped three spots on the qualifying ladder to the No. 9 position.

Stevens lone Friday pass in his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Grand Am produced a 6.914-second effort at 199.32 mph, just off the pace he set yesterday when he ran the top speed of his three-year career.

"This is all part of breaking in a brand new car," said Stevens, who has completed less than 10 full laps in his 2001 Grand Am. "We ran good yesterday so we tried some things today and the car didn't respond. It left lazy and moved around quite a bit in the middle of the track. Just kind of an ugly lap altogether.

"It's always a little disappointing as a driver when you don't improve but I know I need to be patient while we learn the limits of this car. That wasn't a real bad tune-up or a real good tune-up, it's just one we won't use again.

"We'll need to step it up tomorrow. This track can turn into a one-lane track real quick so I want to be in the top eight by the time we're done qualifying so I can pick the lane we start in on Sunday. Lane choice can make or break you here."

Stevens won the 1998 NHRA Finals at this track, becoming the youngest Pro Stock winner of all-time at the age of 20. The win serves as a big boost for the entire Valspar team.

"You always feel better when you race at a track where you've won before," Stevens said. "It's more of a mental thing than anything else but whatever it is I know I feel better knowing that I've been four rounds on Sunday at a track. We've done it here in the past and I'd love to do it again this time around. We would love to have a busy day on Sunday."

The final two rounds of professional qualifying for the 41st annual Winternationals continues Saturday at noon and 2:30 p.m. Several hours of the race will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2. Qualifying highlights will be shown from 9:30-11:30 p.m., Saturday, on ESPN2. The elimination rounds will air from 8-9 p.m., Sunday, on ESPN, with a rebroadcast from 11 p.m.-12 a.m., Sunday, on ESPN2.

-Robert Geiger

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Series NHRA