Sears Point: Fresh off win, Stevens thirsts for more

SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 2) -- Finally, in his third year of competition, Pro Stock drag racer Richie "The Kid" Stevens is old enough to sample the local product when the tour pulls into Sonoma Valley this weekend. His preferred tasting area:...

SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 2) -- Finally, in his third year of competition, Pro Stock drag racer Richie "The Kid" Stevens is old enough to sample the local product when the tour pulls into Sonoma Valley this weekend. His preferred tasting area: Victory Lane.

The 21-year-old from New Orleans is still riding high after his victory four days ago in Seattle. The win was the third of the Valspar Refinish-sponsored driver's short career and the first since he was legally old enough to sip champagne on the winner's podium. Stevens has the distinction of being the youngest Pro Stock winner in the 49-year history of the sport when he claimed his first win in November of 1998.

Although every member of the Valspar racing team still wears ear-to-ear grins left over from last Sunday's impressive victory march past four of the top 10 drivers in the sport, they also know that to win this weekend's 13th annual Autolite Nationals they'll have to start from Ground Zero.

"Winning in Seattle was huge for us," Stevens said. "It had been over a year since we'd won and the team needed the boost. But we also know this weekend is a whole new deal. Nobody racing here cares that we won last weekend. Every driver wants to win just as much as we want to nail down two in a row. I can't say we'll win again but I do know that we have just as good a chance as anyone else.

"The advantage for us is that the racetrack and the conditions here look like they're going to be identical to what we had in Seattle. That means we can pretty much leave the tune-up like it was and go from there. We won in Seattle by being consistent. We didn't blow anyone out of the water on Sunday we just got our car down a very tricky racetrack every time. That's how you win on these tracks when they get hot and greasy.

"This track gets just as slippery as Seattle does but I still feel pretty good about our chances. In the semifinal round last weekend, when it was as hot as it got up there, we were the only one out of the four cars left alive that ran a normal lap. Everyone else got way out of shape. That helped us win that round and it gave us lane choice in the finals. I'll tell you what; this Valspar Pontiac seems like it could run good down a dirt road.

"We moved up a spot in the Winston points (to seventh) and now we're closing in on the top five. My confidence is sky high right now because we know we have a great car that can win at any time. I'd love to taste some California bubbly in Sonoma's Winner's Circle. They tell me it's very good."

Several hours of the 13th annual Autolite Nationals will be broadcast on ESPN2. Qualifying highlights will air from 9:30-11 p.m. (ET)/6:30-8 p.m. (PT) Saturday. Eliminations will be shown from 9:30p.m. - Midnight (ET)/6:30-9 p.m. (PT) Sunday with a rebroadcast from 1-3 p.m. (ET)/10 a.m. - noon (PT) on Wednesday, Aug. 9.

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Series NHRA