RICKY CRAVEN , NO. 32 GIVE KIDS THE WORLD/TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: NOTE: Ricky Craven won the spring race at Darlington in the closest finish in NASCAR history, edging Kurt Busch by .002 seconds. The two battled hard over the final lap, with...
RICKY CRAVEN , NO. 32 GIVE KIDS THE WORLD/TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
NOTE: Ricky Craven won the spring race at Darlington in the closest finish in NASCAR history, edging Kurt Busch by .002 seconds. The two battled hard over the final lap, with both drivers making contact with each other and running the last half lap virtually stuck together. Craven talked about that race, the ongoing battle between Busch and Jimmy Spencer and just what it means to win in Darlington.
HOW DID YOU FIRST VIEW DARLINGTON WHEN YOU CAME HERE THE FIRST TIME?
"In 1992, my introduction to Darlington was intimidating, a bit overwhelming, all those things, all those emotions. I asked a friend who I could get to give me a few tips, because I immediately recognized this as a place that I wanted to succeed at. My friend Ron Miller, who had been in the business, called David Pearson. He said David was the best he'd ever seen at Darlington. David agreed to meet with me the day before qualifying, and he took me around in his van. He was making three or four laps and I think he looked over and saw the apprehension on my face as we were going into Turn 1, what was then Turn 1 and is now Turn 3. I was bracing for impact, and David asked, 'are you all right?' I said, 'I'll let you know!' He says, 'well, if you don't like this, you probably won't get it done, because this is where you need to run.' I thought to myself-I didn't say, but I thought- 'it's been a decade since David's raced. I'm not sure we do that any more.' Then he broke down the race track. He said, 'here's where you need to be off the gas,' and almost immediately, he said, 'here's where you need to be wide open.' I said, 'hold on, wait a minute, wait, wait, wait. You said we need to be off the gas there, but then you followed it up with wide open.' He said, 'OK, what part did you not understand?' I'll tell you, that's the closest I've ever come to having that type of tutoring. I think about kids going from high school to the big leagues. They go through college and they have the luxury of interacting with a Dean Smith or a Bobby Knight or a Joe Paterno. For me, I hadn't had that luxury down south, and I just absorbed every bit of it. I just assumed that everything he said was right and was going to work. The next day, we won the pole in the Busch Series, and it was off the gas here, and it was wide open here, just like he said. At that point, all of a sudden I've got a personal attachment to the place. Sure, it 's mean. I'll get mean right back. It ended ugly. I thought, 'hey, I won the pole. I've got this place figured out.' You never take anything for granted here. There are very few places you can go as a race car driver and be tested like you're tested here. That's a lot of fun. It really is."
WHAT ABOUT THE AREA AROUND DARLINGTON?
"It's a little hot, for a Yankee. It' s beautiful. We live in North Carolina, have for 12 years and will for the rest of our lives, at least part time. We like the area, we like the people, we like the peaches. We like a lot of things this area has to offer that I didn't grow up with in New England. But there's a side of me that will go back. We have a log home back in Maine on a lake called Moosehead, and that will occupy part of our year the rest of our lives. I really like this. It is a little bit of everyone. When I drive down here in the morning, I'm thinking about the different parts of the trip. There's portions of that trip that I can relate to growing up in a town called Newburgh where the extent of our commerce or commercialization was a general store. That's not all bad. There's something to be said for that."
TAKE US BLOW-BY-BLOW THROUGH THOSE LAST FEW LAPS IN MARCH, AND ALSO CONTRAST THE REACTION TO THAT RACE WHERE EVERYONE WALKED AWAY IN SMILES VERSUS WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE SPORT THE LAST COUPLE WEEKS WITH ALL THE CONTENTION?
"I don 't know that it's been all that bad the last couple of weeks [laughter]. First of all, the difference between a controversy like the last few weeks and a great finish is that we did everything but take each other out. I got into him [Kurt Busch] getting into Turn 1, to be fair about it, and he got into me coming off Turn 1. Then we decided at the end to do it one more time. We brought it all the way to the start/finish line, but we still never took one another out. From a competitor's standpoint, when the two guys that were involved in that can meet somewhere inside the track before you leave and enjoy it and shake hands, it's the perfect ending to what was a great duel, a great race. Everything about it was perfect and that's how I felt immediately, as soon as I got out of the Tide Pontiac.
"The situation the last two weeks [between Busch and Jimmy Spencer], there are a couple of components that have created it. No. 1, you have a kid that' s 24 or 25 years old who has won several races. I don't think his driving style has created any-and if it has, a small percentage-of the problem. I think Kurt has earned everything he's gotten on the race track. He's a very good race car driver and he's done a very good job of running very fast late in the race. He's won a lot of races over the last 12 months by being the fastest driver and car at the end of the day. His remarks have been less settling and a little uncomfortable for some of us that are older and don't understand it. That's the first time I've responded to that, and the only reason I am is to give you my perspective. He's 25 years old. At 35, he's going to look back and say, 'wow, did I really say that?' At 45, he'll be even better prepared, except physically he'll be done [laughter]. That's the problem with the business. I'm 37, and if I look at where I was at 25, and you put yourself in that situation, any one of us, at the age of 25, you're going to mess up a few times verbally. It's just not there yet. I think he deserves that credit, because I think every one of us can relate to that. On the flip side, I think Jimmy Spencer has been in this business a long time. You're not here a long time by mistake, and I think he deserves a little respect for that. If he gives a little consideration to what he might have been like when he was 25, maybe he'd look at that whole situation differently. Maybe he'd talk to Kurt on Monday instead of talking to him Sunday. I believe that thing can go away, but it needs to go away verbally first. Everyone needs to stop talking about it. Kurt needs to be a little more selective about what he says and when he says it."
DO YOU EVER WONDER WHY NO TRACKS LIKE DARLINGTON ARE BUILT ANYMORE? EVERYTHING IS 1.5 MILES TODAY.
"Yeah, I do. I actually believe that was a trend. The same thing has happened in a lot of other industries, and for a certain period in the evolution of NASCAR racing, that was thought to be the perfect race track. Since, we've discovered that what makes this tick, what makes it work is that one week we could be at Martinsville, racing on a flat, half-mile oval and the next week we're at Talladega, the biggest track on the circuit. We make a stop here at the oldest track on the circuit and then we go to the West Coast and race on a road course. There's so many ingredients to this, and that is responsible in large part for why it is so flavorful and exciting. From a personal standpoint, if they didn't build another 1.5-mile track, it would be fine with me. It's time to build some other race tracks."
KURT BUSCH SAID LAST WEEK THAT HE WAS TRYING TO FLATTEN JIMMY SPENCER'S FENDER, AND THAT WAS AN ACCEPTED TACTIC ON A SUPERSPEEDWAY. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT AND DO YOU THINK THAT'S WHAT HE WAS TRYING TO DO TO YOU HERE IN MARCH?
"I just changed my whole opinion [laugh]. First of all, no, it's absolutely not an accepted tactic, from my seat. I've been doing this for 22, 23 years. From my seat, it isn't and it hasn't been. Has there been retaliation? You're darn right. I've retaliated, I've gotten hot under the collar and I've reacted instead of acting. I reacted to things that maybe I shouldn't. I think, personally, that was a lot of chatter. I think that was a 25-year-old talking. I don't believe he makes a living knocking people's fenders in. I know that's a sharp contrast to what we all heard, but he should just let his driving do the talking and he'll be just fine. He's a very good race car driver."
IS THERE A KURT BUSCH IN THE GARAGE AREA THAT ONLY YOU AS DRIVERS SEE?
"That 's a good question. From my seat, no, I don't think so. I give him the benefit of the doubt and say, at 24 or 25, he's getting a little bit ahead of himself and doing too much talking. I don't believe it has any substance."
HAS HE EVER TALKED TRASH DIRECTLY TO YOU?
"I remember Kurt coming in during his rookie year at Daytona. Something happened on the track and he spun around the corner. There were a dozen people where he came whizzing around the corner. This startled all of us. We all jumped back. He came walking by later and I grabbed him, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the guy I was talking to, except that at the time he was 23, 24 and he was just having a bad spell. He was just mad and he didn't understand the repercussions of what he had done until he walked away from it five minutes later. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. He's an intelligent guy, he knows right from wrong and he's smart enough to realize that if he makes a living talking like he talked at Michigan on his radio, it will work against him. There will be consequences. I think he's smart enough to understand that. Whether I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt or not, we' ll just have to wait and see."