Craven expects to stay near the top
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Feb. 23, 1998)
Willy, one of the World Famous Budweiser Clydesdales, will ride shotgun with Ricky Craven in the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo on Sunday in the inaugural Las Vegas 400 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Of course there's no way to fit a 2,000-pound horse in a 3,500-pound stock car, but Craven's Monte Carlos will be named after the Budweiser Clydesdales this season. Shane helped Craven record a 10th-place finish last week at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
Now it's Willy's turn to bring some of Las Vegas' luck to the table for the No. 50 Budweiser team. Craven, a 31-year-old native of Newburgh, Maine, has completed all 593 laps in the first two races and ranks ninth in the point standings. With new crew chief Tony Furr calling the shots in the pits, Craven and company have held their own in the first two events.
"It hasn't been spectacular, but we've had two solid runs," Craven said. "Last year we had two top-fives to start the season and were second in the standings after the first two races. Then we faded. We don't plan on dropping back this season."
Craven will get a chance to test his skills on a new track this weekend at Las Vegas. More than 100,000 fans are expected to watch the race at the new $200 million facility. The $3.9 million purse has attracted plenty of attention, and the 1.5-mile track may lend itself to one of those three-wide storybook-type NASCAR finishes.
"I've never competed at Las Vegas, but we're going to get a day of practice and that will help," Craven said. "We're really depending on that because tracks always appear differently from driver to driver. Some drivers say it looks like a small Michigan and others may say it looks like a big New Hampshire. All that does is confuse you.
"I've heard Las Vegas is very racer-friendly, and that would be nice."
Craven experienced mixed results at the two new tracks last season. He wrecked during practice at Texas Motor Speedway and sustained injuries that kept him out of two races. However, his first trip to California Speedway in Fontana worked out a little better.
"We tested at Texas last year, and it didn't treat me very good," Craven said. "We didn't test at California and qualified 11th and finished ninth. Maybe I should just leave it at that.
"It still comes down to how prepared you are as a team and how quickly you adapt to the track. You can spend five days there. If you don't adapt quickly, those extra four days aren't going to help."
Craven will head to Las Vegas on Wednesday after a two-day test at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Like most drivers, Craven's schedule will be packed in Las Vegas, but the Maine Man plans to enjoy himself in the town that's so well-known for life in the fast lane.
"It's exciting to go to a new track, and I really enjoy Las Vegas. We'll probably be pretty busy and won't be able to really take advantage of the town, but just being there is fun. It's such an exciting town, totally different than Newburgh, Maine."
After two races in his second season with the Budweiser team, Craven says everyone is pulling in the right direction. With several new crew members, team chemistry is cooking, and Craven gives a lot of credit for the upbeat mood to his new crew chief.
"Tony Furr is a lot of fun to work with," Craven said. "He's fun because he keeps the driver involved, and that's always been important to me. It's an important part of my overall plan. One thing I really admire about Tony Furr is that he lives with the car. He'd spend the night in the garage if they'd let him. The car is that important to him, and I really admire that dedication."
Furr is equally impressed with Craven's commitment to parking the No. 50 Budweiser Monte Carlo in Victory Lane.
"Ricky is solid," Furr said. "Hendrick Motorsports is very solid. We've got two great teammates helping us, and we're coming together. We're going to end up winning some races."
Courtesy of NASCAR Online