Darlington II: GM - Craven Friday interview

RICKY CRAVEN , NO. 32 TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: NOTE: Ricky Craven, who won the spring race at Darlington Raceway by .002 seconds over Kurt Busch, sat down with the media on Friday prior to qualifying. Following are highlights of that press ...

RICKY CRAVEN , NO. 32 TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

NOTE: Ricky Craven, who won the spring race at Darlington Raceway by .002 seconds over Kurt Busch, sat down with the media on Friday prior to qualifying. Following are highlights of that press conference.

THE WIN HERE IN MARCH, IS IT STILL TINGLISH?

"Yeah, it is. It's really nice coming back, I drove in this morning and thought about the idea of rolling through the tunnel and coming here for the final Southern 500 on Labor Day. I don't know what it means to everybody else, but it means a lot to me. Growing up, I felt like this was one of the four or five big races every year, and the distinction was that it was on Labor Day. There will be several Southern 500s yet to win, but there's a lot of emphasis put on winning this one. The Southern 500 is something I've always identified as a real test for not only the cars, but the drivers. It's pretty cool. I have my placard up against the fence so I get a reserved parking spot. I don't have that distinction anywhere, including New Hampshire, so I'm pretty proud of that."

YOU WERE 12th FASTEST IN PRACTICE. HAPPY WITH THAT?

"That's a good effort. I think that's the one thing we can focus on as we reflect on March The one place we could improve on the most was qualifying. We started at such a deficit, and we certainly did it the hard way. We decided that if we could qualify better, ideally in the top 10, we would give ourselves a much better game plan going into Sunday and maybe not the urgency to get there so quickly and preserve the tires and do all the things you need to do here, not the least of which is to race the track instead of the other competitors."

YOU HAVE A SPECIAL PAINT SCHEME THIS WEEK. TELL US ABOUT IT.

"It's the fifth anniversary of Give Kids the World and its affiliation with the race team. The paint scheme we're racing this weekend was designed by Lisa Healy and she'll be here this weekend. It's really special for the team and myself to be able to do this. Our attachment is a special one, and they are part of the charity snowmobile ride I have every January. In a much larger way, they are very important to Procter & Gamble. The village is in Florida, and it's overwhelming. The whole concept is the Disney theme, and it has a unique character. It's for children with terminal illnesses that may not be able to afford or have the ability to make the reservations and accommodations to come to Florida, like maybe for a Make-A-Wish child or someone that has the idea or the dream of going to one of these parks. They can stay there for free and live with all the comforts of first class. It's a really neat place."

WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THIS RACE TRACK AND THIS PART OF THE WORLD?

"Well, the race track was like, 'holy--' It was like no place I'd ever seen. I moved down here in 1992, and I'd done all my racing on half-mile tracks or smaller, with the exception of New Hampshire, which was like a superspeedway to us. The reality sunk in when I got here. It's 180 miles per hour against the wall all the way around. Where do you pass? I struggled the first time I came here. Early on, I identified this track as the ultimate test. If you can win here, you've left your mark, at least in South Carolina. From a racer's standpoint, it's got all aspects. Certainly, every weekend it's one against 42. But what makes this a little different and certainly more challenging is, if at any point during the event, if you lose sight of where you are, it ends ugly. I think back to March and we were sitting fourth with 25 laps to go, and we only really had to pass one car because both Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler both got bit by the Darlington stripe. When you think in terms of Jeff Gordon, No. 1 he's one of the best ever and No. 2, he's got a heck of a record here, but even he's vulnerable at Darlington. That's what makes it so appealing from a competitor's standpoint, an athlete's standpoint. This represents what Fenway Park is to baseball or the Masters is to golf. There won't be 150,000 people here and it's not $1 million to win, but it's got as much history and it represents perhaps more than any other race track what we do as stock car drivers."

HOW WILL YOUR NOTES APPLY TO THE HOT-WEATHER RACE HERE SUNDAY?

"I think a portion of it will, but we've come here with the attitude that it's not going to. We have a plan and we'll execute that plan Saturday morning in the first practice. We've already done things differently for qualifying this time, and thank goodness, because we qualified terrible last time. I believe that's going to pay off. The one thing that happened in March that enabled us to challenge for the win was the track got slick, like it always does and the rubber built up, like it always does. The last 100 laps, the Tide Pontiac was as good as any car on the track. The difference between then and now is, I think you're going to see the same thing for 500 miles as opposed to 100 or 150 miles. It rained really hard before the race in March, but I know that when the race started, the track was so clean and there was so much grtp, we didn't stand a chance for the first 200 miles. But it just got better and better and better and the package that we had complimented the car and the track and it really came to us. We're going to start tomorrow morning with some ideas and some of the things that the team felt would work better under these conditions. We can migrate back to what we ran in March awfully easily."

GOING BACK TO THE FENWAY-MASTERS ANALOGY, WOULD THE MASTERS BE THE SAME IF IT WAS PLAYED IN NOVEMBER?

'I'm with you. Let's start the petition. We'll have to see what the Southern 500 is like next year, whether it's under the lights or when it is. We're stubborn people, too. We don't like change, and I don't know how many people embraced the idea of racing at Daytona under the lights, but from my standpoint, the Pepsi 400 is much more exciting today than it was when I first went there. I'm being open-minded about it. Early on there was discussion that Darlington would lose a race. I'm thankful that didn't happen, and I give that more regard that perhaps losing the Labor Day weekend."

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ricky Craven , Elliott Sadler