Richie Stevens' Valspar car squeaks into first-round field

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 3) -- The first day of qualifying for the season-opening 40th annual AutoZone Winternationals allowed the assembled Pros one lap down historic Pomona Raceway's quarter-mile strip. Valspar Refinish driver Richie "The Kid" ...

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 3) -- The first day of qualifying for the season-opening 40th annual AutoZone Winternationals allowed the assembled Pros one lap down historic Pomona Raceway's quarter-mile strip. Valspar Refinish driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens took his Pro Stock Pontiac through a fact-finding pass of 7.022 seconds at 196.56 mph that placed him in the 16th and final qualifying position on the early ladder.

"I was going fine until I hit third gear," Stevens said. "Then the car just completely broke loose from the track. I almost went over the centerline. There is something wrong with that lane. I spoke with several other drivers at the other end and they all said the same thing happened to them at the same spot in that lane.

"We'll be okay. I was on what felt like a really quick lap until the tires let go. And even then we put up a good enough number up to stay in the field for now. The car's running great. I guess my Warren Johnson motor was just too strong for this track."

Stevens has signed an agreement to run five-time Winston champion Johnson's motors this season. This race marks the first event where he is using the powerplants.

"We'll be in the better lane tomorrow and I expect us to move up considerably," Stevens said, "especially now that Tommy (Utt, crew chief) has seen how the car and motor react to this track and these conditions."

Stevens, a 21-year-old from New Orleans, won his first race as a Pro at Pomona Raceway in November of 1998. The win, which occurred when Stevens was 19, made him the youngest Pro Stock victor in the 49-year history of NHRA drag racing.

All race action for this weekend's event will be shown on ESPN2 including same-day coverage of Sunday's elimination rounds. Qualifying highlights will be broadcast from 9:30-11:30 p.m. (EST) Saturday, Feb. 5. Final eliminations will air from 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (EST) Sunday, Feb. 6.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson