Sonoma Return to Form Pumps Richie Stevens

SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 8) -- The front-running Valspar Refinish team of Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens departs Sonoma Valley's Wine Country in high spirits after recording its first semifinal appearance since mid-May when the team...

SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 8) -- The front-running Valspar Refinish team of Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens departs Sonoma Valley's Wine Country in high spirits after recording its first semifinal appearance since mid-May when the team captured the title of the Mopar Nationals in New Jersey.

The 20-year-old driver from New Orleans survived two rounds of sudden-death racing Sunday at the 12th Annual Autolite Nationals before bowing out to eventual runner-up Kurt Johnson in Round 3. Stevens' wins were carded against Mark "Cowboy" Pawuk and Mike Trumble Jr., who are in eighth and 12th place, respectively, in the Winston championship points standings.

In his Final Four race, Stevens was simply outrun by the second-ranked Johnson, who posted the day's best lap of 6.956 seconds at 200.02 mph against Stevens' 7.067-second pass at 195.45 mph.

"I needed a real long front end to reach the finish line before Kurt," Stevens said. "He pulled out a terrific run and there wasn't much I could besides watch. We both left the starting line together (0.448-second start for Stevens and a 0.449-second launch for Johnson) and I stayed next to him for a second or two. But it turned out that I would've needed a huge hole shot to beat him.

"We are all still really pumped up over here in the Valspar pit. We used our own brand-new motor yesterday and today and it really showed some promise. It's very satisfying to run that well with a new powerplant. Plus, we went a few rounds and put ourselves in a position to win. That's all we can ask for.

"This weekend made the whole West Coast swing worthwhile. It feels like we've returned to the form that we were in when we were in the finals every week. I can't wait for the next race in Brainerd. Minnesota here we come."

Stevens entered this event in fifth place in the Winston championship points standings. He has now recorded one national event win and 16 individual elimination round wins in 1999 and is currently on a streak of 13 straight races in which he has successfully qualified for elimination action.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Mike Trumble