Reading: Stevens storms up elimination ladder

READING, Pa. (Sept. 16) -- The thermometer dipped today at Maple Grove Raceway and the cooler temperatures translated to exceptionally quick elapsed times on the racetrack as qualifying for the 16th annual Keystone Nationals came to a close. Pro...

READING, Pa. (Sept. 16) -- The thermometer dipped today at Maple Grove Raceway and the cooler temperatures translated to exceptionally quick elapsed times on the racetrack as qualifying for the 16th annual Keystone Nationals came to a close. Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens took full advantage of the conditions and streaked up the qualifying ladder to earn the No. 4 starting position for tomorrow's race day action.

Stevens already had his award-winning Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird comfortably in the top half of the field with a Friday pass of 6.928 seconds at 197.86 mph. But he bettered that mark considerably in both rounds today, finally posting a weekend-best pass of 6.861 seconds at 198.52 mph.

"That final run was so awesome I thought we had nailed the No. 1 spot for sure," Stevens said. "I did go a little left and that must have cut off just enough speed and (elapsed time) to keep us off the pole. But we'll definitely take what we got and get ready for tomorrow.

"This is the best qualifying effort we've had in awhile and what's awesome is that we ran in the top half of the field every time we went down the track. That's very, very encouraging and I'm extremely excited about racing this Valspar car. We should be competitive all day. I hope the weather stays exactly like it was today."

The 21-year-old from New Orleans will open tomorrow's elimination action with lane choice over "Tricky Rickie" Smith, who ran a 6.889 at 198.93 mph. The two men have met one time this year with Stevens holding a 1-0 advantage.

Stevens is currently in seventh place in the Winston championship points standings with 835 points. He is trailing Mark Pawuk by 58 points and Troy Coughlin by 59 points. Each round win on race day is worth 20 points. Pawuk ran a 6.875-second lap in qualifying and Coughlin carded a 6.886-second blast.

"We have a nice chance to make up some more ground," Stevens said. "But we also have our hands full right from the opening round. We're going to have to earn every win we get. Qualifying as high up as we did here will also help us a bunch in the qualifying points standings. So far, we couldn't ask for much more out of this weekend."

Same-day television coverage of the 16th annual Keystone Nationals will air tomorrow from 9:30-11:30 p.m. ET, on ESPN2.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Troy Coughlin , Mark Pawuk