PHOENIX (Feb. 21) -- Returning to Firebird International Raceway for this weekend's 16th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals marks a special point in time for Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens. It was exactly one...
PHOENIX (Feb. 21) -- Returning to Firebird International Raceway for this weekend's 16th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals marks a special point in time for Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens. It was exactly one year ago at this event when Stevens and his father Richie Stevens Sr. became co-owners of their race team, buying the operation outright from former owner Shawn Collins.
In the year since taking over the team, Stevens' career has skyrocketed. For starters, he has qualified for every national event, a stunning feat only five-time Winston champion Warren Johnson has equaled. Stevens also successfully earned a position in two special events, the Winston "No Bull" Showdown and the Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duel.
Additionally, the 21-year-old from New Orleans has raced to four final rounds and won another national event since last visiting the Arizona desert. He captured his first career pole in Topeka, Kan. and joined the Speed-Pro 200-mph Club in Richmond, Va., where he also set and briefly held the national elapsed time record. Stevens was also a finalist for the Auto Club of Southern California "Road to the Future" Award and finished the year a career-high fifth in points.
"We definitely had a great year and it all started in Phoenix," said Stevens, who also signed a two-year major sponsorship agreement with Valspar last season. "We got on a real hot streak and went to three finals in a row. I'd love to start another run like that with a win here.
"The Valspar Racing team is off to a great start already but we have to stay on our toes at Firebird International Raceway. I've haven't done very well in the two events we've run here. I've just had a tough time getting a hold of this track. It can be tricky for these Pro Stock cars and if the desert winds are blowing dust around the track, it's even worse. But all the teams are fighting the same conditions so it's up to us to be competitive."
Stevens enters this race in eighth place in the Winston championship points standings, having reached the second round of the season-opening Winternationals before bowing out to new engine supplier Warren Johnson.
"Warren wasn't overly happy when we left California," Stevens said. "I know he's been wearing our motors out on the dyno getting us all ready for Phoenix. On our end, (crew chief) Tommy Utt has continued to work on matching our Valspar Pontiac Firebird to W.J.'s horsepower. Between what he's done and what Warren's done, I expect us to break this Phoenix curse."
The elimination rounds of the Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals will be televised on Speedvision from 7-8:30 p.m. (ET), Sunday, Feb. 27 with a rebroadcast later that evening on Fox Sports Net from midnight-1:30 a.m. (ET).