BUSCH: Watkins Glen Craven returns

Craven ready for return to racing WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (June 24, 1998) Ricky Craven will climb back behind the wheel of a stock car on Sunday at Watkins Glen International to race for the first time since March 9 at Atlanta Motor Speedway,...

Craven ready for return to racing

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (June 24, 1998) Ricky Craven will climb back behind the wheel of a stock car on Sunday at Watkins Glen International to race for the first time since March 9 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but said Wednesday he won't attempt to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race until July 12 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

The 32-year-old Newburgh, Maine, native tested his No. 2 New Holland Chevrolet Monte Carlo last week at Watkins Glen and pronounced himself ready to compete in Sunday's Lysol 200 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race at The Glen's 2.45-mile road course.

Craven, who has been recovering from post-concussion syndrome since March, hopes to test the No. 50 Hendrick Motorsports Budweiser Chevrolet soon, and return to action on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit in the Jiffy Lube 300 at NHIS, his "home track." He said Wednesday that he plans to test the Budweiser Chevrolet at Atlanta sometime in the near future, but he's not quite sure when that will be.

"What we're really wanting to do is run the race at Watkins Glen, and then evaluate how I feel," Craven said. "It's probably safer to assume that Wally (Dallenbach) will be in the car for the Daytona race. I love Daytona, and it's a place where I want to win at sooner or later.

"I certainly wanted to be a part of the festivities there, with it being the first night race there and all. But to be safe, to be practical, we thought, 'what's the big urgency? Let's take an extra week and see what happens.' We'll evaluate where we are after Watkins Glen, and if we get the green light, we'll make our return at Loudon."

Craven said although he's passed the medical exams he failed initially after the diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome in March, that doesn't mean he's necessarily cured. He said Wednesday that he's "99 percent sure that I'm fine."

The first big test for Craven will come on Sunday in the Lysol 200 on the 11-turn road course. Craven said he was happy with his one-day test session there, and even wanted to put in more laps before officials shut the track down for the day.

"Our test at Watkins Glen last week went great," Craven said. "I felt great, and it was a very productive day. It was very positive and a complete success from the standpoint of how I felt physically. There were no complications, and I'm looking forward to the race. I'm eager to get back in the car.

"It was a brand new Monte Carlo, and we had to shake it down slowly. I haven't been in a car for three months, and I was trying to be reasonable. I didn't expect everything to be perfect or easy. We're going to take it one step at a time."

Craven competed in the first four NASCAR Winston Cup Series races this season in the Budweiser Chevy, finishing 10th in the GM Goodwrench Service Plus 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. But he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome after Atlanta. In his second year with the Hendrick Motorsports team, Craven can't wait to return to action for the second half of the 1998 campaign.

"It felt really great in the car," Craven said. "I reestablished the hunger that maybe didn't exist three months ago. I'm looking to return to the focus and level of concentration I had before. We tested for about 40 laps. It was a one-day test, but it was really important for us.

"We picked the road course mostly because of timing. I looked at the schedule, and Watkins Glen was the most challenging of all the events for me at this time. Physically, it'll be a great challenge. I have the luxury of owning my own Busch team. If I find out I'm only 95 percent, then I'll have the luxury to take off another week or whatever's necessary because when I come back in the Bud car, I'm coming back to stay."

Craven's No. 1 goal is to finish Sunday's race before he looks at his next step. Although he's stated he'd like to come back for the July 4 Pepsi 400, replacement driver Dallenbach will remain the car for that race.

"I'd like to have a strong performance, but after being out of the car for more than three months, there will be a few deficits I have to overcome," Craven said. "Some will be physical and some will be mental. I'll have to run the race before I can truly tell you how I feel. But I'm real excited about it. I know it's going to be difficult coming back after taking the time off. A lot of great drivers in the Busch Series are competing every week, so it's going to be a great test for me.

"I felt above average testing the car, but I don't know exactly what average is. It was hard to get out of the car, but hindsight shows that was the only choice. That was one of the best decisions I'd ever made in my Winston Cup career. There's plenty of time for me in Winston Cup, and everything is better now. I have more confidence in my health now. You can't race when you're concerned with your health, and I had some concerns at times.."

Craven has missed 11 NASCAR`Winston Cup Series races and will not compete in Sunday's Save Mart/Kragen 350 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. He's also had knee surgery during the time he's been recuperating from the post-concussion syndrome. But Craven has been working with a personal trainer and says he's ready for action.

"I haven't watched many of the races I've missed," Craven said. "I don't like watching on TV. I'd rather watch from behind the windshield."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Ricky Craven
Teams Hendrick Motorsports