Richmond Richie Stevens blasts into field

RICHMOND, Va. (April 29) -- Popular driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens waited until the final qualifying session of the Moto1.net Nationals to earn a spot in the quickest Pro Stock field in NHRA history. Stevens drove his award-winning Valspar ...

RICHMOND, Va. (April 29) -- Popular driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens waited until the final qualifying session of the Moto1.net Nationals to earn a spot in the quickest Pro Stock field in NHRA history. Stevens drove his award-winning Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird through a 6.886-second lap at 198.32 mph in Round 4 to shoot from the final spot on the ladder into the No. 9 position.

"That was a breath-taking, nail-biting way to get into the field," Stevens said. "Now I can understand why my dad chews his nails. That was some pressure. Right before they shut the door on my car I heard the announcer say 'Here comes Richie Stevens in the Valspar car. He's on the bump. If he doesn't improve this lap, he could be outta here.'"

Both the weather, which caused the cancellation of one Friday session, and the engine gremlins that attacked the Valspar team yesterday, helped apply the heat to Stevens. "We got a little behind yesterday and then lost a round to rain," Stevens said. "It all came down to today's two runs. We knew what we had to do."

Tuned by noted crew chief Tommy Utt, Stevens temporarily moved into the No. 11 spot early Saturday with a 6.913-second pass at 197.71 mph. But the cool evening session accounted for several drivers recording career numbers, which pushed the bump spot lower and lower. It finally stopped at a record 6.905 seconds at 199.02 mph.

"After the first round today I thought that time would at least be good enough to keep us in the field," Stevens said. "But it turns out it wasn't even close. It's great to have rebounded like we did and to put that final number up there. Tommy's the man. He always gives me what I need to have when it comes down to racing."

Stevens, who has now qualified the Valspar car for 26 consecutive races, will open Sunday's elimination action against Mark Pawuk, who qualified eighth with a 6.884 at 198.99 mph. The two squared off once this year at the last race in Houston with Pawuk taking the second-round win. By virtue of his better qualifying effort, Pawuk will have lane choice over Stevens.

"I don't think lane choice even matters here," Stevens said. "Most cars went quick on both sides of the track, including ours. I just hope it's my turn to beat Mark."

The second Valspar car, piloted this weekend by Chester, Va., resident Don Beverly, missed the field by .016 seconds.

The elimination rounds of the sixth annual Moto1.net Nationals presented by Chevrolet will be broadcast from 4:30-6 p.m. (ET and PT) Sunday, April 30 on TNN.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk