Pomona: Stevens streaks out to sixth-place start

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 4) -- Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens started the 2001 drag racing season in grand style, racing to the second round of the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals and finishing the race in sixth place...

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 4) -- Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens started the 2001 drag racing season in grand style, racing to the second round of the 41st annual AutoZone Winternationals and finishing the race in sixth place in the Winston championship points standings. It is the best start ever for the 22-year-old from New Orleans, who began racing professionally in 1998.

"This is an excellent way for Team Valspar to kick off the year," Stevens said. "I would have loved to have won this race but all things considered, I'm very happy to be leaving here in sixth place. We qualified in the top half, won an elimination round, and earned a bunch of championship points. It's hard to complain.

"We just need to get this Valspar Refinish Pontiac Grand Am sorted out a little better. We've only made 12 full passes down the track, including testing, and we still matched up real well against everyone at this race. If you look at the guys ahead of us in the points right now, they've all had their cars for at least a month. We just got ours two weeks ago. Tommy and John (Utt, crewmen) deserve a lot of credit. They've done an awesome job."

Stevens started race day out of the No. 8 qualifying position by virtue of a 6.882-second, 200.35-mph run he carded Thursday. The speed marked a career-best for Stevens. He then opened eliminations against Ford Mustang driver Robert Patrick, who had qualified ninth with a 6.883-second pass at 200.20 mph. When the lights flashed it was Stevens jumping out to an early lead and beating Patrick to the other end, winning in 6.939 seconds at 197.91 mph against Patrick's 6.978-second, 199.40-mph effort.

In the quarterfinals, Stevens yielded lane choice to No. 1 qualifier Bruce Allen, who then rode the advantage to a 6.901-second to 6.948-second win. Stevens did get the early jump on Allen, leaving the starting line with a .472-second launch in front of Allen's .478-second reaction time. But the questionable right-hand lane couldn't handle Stevens' horsepower and his tires spun just enough to allow Allen by for the win.

"I hate losing but Bruce is a classy guy who is running extremely well this year," Stevens said. "He deserved to win the race. I congratulate him and I hope he has a great season and gets himself a new sponsor. We just need some more laps in our car and then we'll be able to keep up with guys like Bruce. But I'm not complaining. This has been a great weekend all the way around. I'm proud of what we accomplished."

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

-Robert Geiger

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Series NHRA
Drivers Robert Patrick , Bruce Allen