Topeka: Focused Stevens ready for Birthday Bash

TOPEKA, Kan. (Sept. 22) -- Last season, just three days after his 21st birthday, Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens arrived at Heartland Park Topeka for the annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals and promptly gave himself a gift no one else ...

TOPEKA, Kan. (Sept. 22) -- Last season, just three days after his 21st birthday, Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens arrived at Heartland Park Topeka for the annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals and promptly gave himself a gift no one else could deliver -- his first career No. 1 qualifying effort.

Now the sport's youngest Pro Stock winner of all-time (Stevens won the NHRA Finals in 1998 at age 19) returns on the eve of his 22nd birthday intent on repeating his top qualifying effort while adding a race win to the mix for good measure.

"We have the same car, the same tune-up, the same motor, and the same chassis set-up," said Stevens, who drives the Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird. "If we get the same sort of weather conditions we had a year ago then there is no reason to think we can't repeat what we did in 1999. We should be right on the mark at this track.

"Everything has been working great with this entire Valspar team and returning to a track where we had some great times in the past gives us a bunch of real good reasons to be excited. I credit (crewmen) Tommy and John Utt along with my dad (Richie Sr.) for having this car totally ready for battle every week. They've made my job easy."

Stevens has notched one national event win and 17 elimination-round victories this season and has qualified in the top half of the elimination field nine times. Additionally, he has been a part of the Top 10 in the Winston points after 17 of 18 events. Stevens is currently seventh in the championship standings, 56 points behind Troy Coughlin and Mark Pawuk, who are tied for fifth place.

"I had a real good opportunity to make a big move up in the points at the last race in Reading (Pa.)," Stevens said. "Mark and Troy both went out in front of me in the first round and I knew I had a chance to gain on them big time. But I didn't get it done.

"It's been on my mind every since then and I don't like the feeling I've had. It's really got me fired up to redeem myself at this race. I know that I owe it to the team. There are only five races left this season so the pressure is building. I need to make up some ground in Topeka because I don't want to be in a position where we have to force it over the last few events. I need to be on my game when the racing starts."

Same-day television coverage of the elimination rounds of the 12th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals will air on TNN from 4:30-6 p.m. (ET and PT), Sunday, Oct. 1.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Troy Coughlin , Mark Pawuk