Ricky Craven at his signature Speedway Children’s Charity golf tournament on Thursday. (Alan MacRae for the Laconia Daily Sun)
The State of Nascar
According to ESPN analyst Ricky Craven
LOUDON — Ricky Craven, a retired driver with wins in all of NASCAR’s top three series and now ESPN’s NASCAR analyst, is back at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend, the scene of much his early success as a driver.
Born and raised in Newburgh, Maine, Craven was always a fan favorite at the speedway as the local guy who made it to the big time. During his driving career, Craven won the rookie of the year titles in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 1992 and NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1995. He won races in both series, as well as in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He also won the 1991 championship of the NASCAR Busch Grand National North Series.
In 1996, Craven had a horrific crash at Talledaga when his car was launched into the catch fence right above the wall. Not even two seconds after, he was thrown back onto the track and hit by another car. It was the only crash in NASCAR history that ended a race. They never threw a red flag, but they did end the race.
After that horrific year, Craven was given the chance of a lifetime. He was asked to drive the No. 25 Monte Carlo for the ever-famous Rick Hendrick. He did well for the first year, finishing third at the Daytona 500. While practicing for the Interstate Batteries 500, Craven crashed into the wall. He had to miss two races due to a concussion.
In the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Craven won in what is tied for the closest recorded finish in NASCAR history when he edged Kurt Busch at the finish line by .002 seconds to win at Darlington in 2003.
He made his NASCAR debut in 1986 at the age of 20 at Oxford Plains Speedway, which was owned by Bob Bahre, who would in a few years buy the Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon and turn it into a world class NASCAR venue.
“Bob Bahre was a mentor of mine. I always respected what he did in bringing NASCAR to New Hampshire and I still get to see him and talk about racing with him,” says Craven, who planned on stopping by to see Bahre's auto collection next week.
Carven's optimistic about the future of the S]speedway, even though it will lose its September NASCAR race next year to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“There will be a NASCAR race here as long as I'm around. This track has earned and deserves to host a race every year. It's an important place for the sport and I wouldn't be surprised to some day see a second NASCAR race come to the track.”
He says that he's also optimistic that the sport is recovering after having bottomed out in the great recession.
“The momentum is in the the opposite direction these days. There was declining attendance and the sport's popularity had dropped. But it's overcoming that. Big stars like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have retired in recent years and this is the last year for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But there's a whole new crop of young drivers who are making names for themselves and are the future of the sport.” says Craven.
He says that for years NASCAR seemed to lose its focus on what it does best, which is to provide entertainment. And he maintains that is the result of strong personalities, creating the bond between fans and drivers which is is still at the heart of the sport.
He says that Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott and Erik Jones, all of whom will be racing in Sunday's Monster Energy Cup Series race, will all soon be household names.
He summed up his thoughts in a recent column for ESPN:
“Larson is a bit of an enigma. While I'm not ready to anoint him as the next Jimmie Johnson, his driving style and personality are strikingly similar. He gets everything out of a race car and he wins, and he still does it without it coming at the expense of other drivers. He doesn't rough up a driver to reach victory lane.
“That's been a trademark of seven-time champ JJ for years.
“Blaney is the quiet one, speaks softly but carries a big stick. His demonstration of closing the deal against Kevin Harvick at Pocono was the greatest endorsement a driver can get. He refused to lose. Do you 'member that expression?
“The 24 car no longer belongs to Gordon, it's now in the hands of Elliott, who's been tortured by second-place finishes, much the same as Harry Gant was before he broke through and won, and won, and won.
“Elliott will contribute to the popularity of our sport. Everything about him will be right when he wins, and he will win often.
“Perhaps the greatest talent in our sport comes in the form of Jones.
“I like how he manages a race, how he drives the hell out of a race car, how humble he is when the helmet is off. Jones is a franchise player, a franchise player for Joe Gibbs Racing and not his current Furniture Row team.”
Jones recently announced that he will be racing for the Joe Gibbs team in 2018.
From 2001 through 2004 New England’s Rick Craven drove the No. 32 Tide-sponsored car for PPI Motorsports in NASCAR’s premier racing series — then called the Winston Cup. During that period he won two races and recorded 10 top fives and 24 top10s. In 2001, Craven won his first Winston Cup race at the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Two years later, he bested Kurt Bush by a few inches (above photo) to win the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. It remains the closest finish in NASCAR history — two one-thousandths of a second. Today that car sits in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in in Charlotte, N.C. (Photos courtesy Alchetron and Fox Sports)
- Written by Roger Amsden
- Category: Local News
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