Craven To Return in June

Craven eyes June return Dave Rodman CONCORD, N.C. (May 19, 1998) NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Ricky Craven, who has been sidelined nearly two months while recovering from post-concussion syndrome, may make his return to the wheel of a...

Craven eyes June return Dave Rodman

CONCORD, N.C. (May 19, 1998) NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Ricky Craven, who has been sidelined nearly two months while recovering from post-concussion syndrome, may make his return to the wheel of a stock car in less than three weeks if he passes a medical evaluation later this week.

Craven, who will turn 32 on Sunday, the day of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has an appointment with doctors at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill on Thursday. It was this group that originally recommended that Craven take some time out of the seat of the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet after he was injured in practice for the 1997 Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, then subsequently jarred in other hard crashes.

Craven's first race out of the car was the March 22 TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington Raceway. He has missed six official points races as well as the Winston Open special event last weekend at CMS.

Although Craven said he would continue to seek additional medical opinions, a team spokesman said the driver would like to test at Daytona International Speedway on June 8-10 in an open session for the July 4 Pepsi 400. Craven additionally is looking to compete in a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race with his own team before returning to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

In the meantime, two-time defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie will climb back behind the wheel of the Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval after a one-race sabbatical.

Because of a scheduling conflict with the First Union 200 NASCAR Busch Series race, Wally Dallenbach replaced LaJoie for last Saturday's Winston Open and finished 10th in that event. After LaJoie drives the Budweiser car in races at Charlotte, Dover Downs International Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, Dallenbach will compete in races at Michigan Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Sears Point Raceway.

If Craven gets medical clearance, he may be back in the car at Daytona.

"I think Daytona is very realistic," Craven said. "It's what we're shooting for and what we're focused on. I'm going to try to run a Busch race before Daytona as a preliminary.

"I have my own Busch team. I have the resources. The Busch races are basically half the length. I'm not taking any shortcuts. The hardest thing in the world for me was missing Darlington. After that, I surrendered. I hope to test, sometime in June. I hope to test Daytona, some sort of opportunity under the lights down there where we can all test."

Craven has been working diligently to overcome all obstacles. He had anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his right knee while recuperating from his other problem. He plans to have additional ACL surgery on his left knee in the off-season. He currently has stopped using crutches and a cane and is walking unaided, but with a slight limp.

A recent medical test revealed that Craven has been making progress, scoring at "average or above average levels" in every area screened, according to Budweiser spokesman Kenny Kane. Craven, a Newburgh, Maine, native, says he knew it would only be a matter of time.

"I knew that I'd been making progress the last three weeks," Craven said. "The first three weeks I was pretty miserable. They wanted to reevaluate in the middle of May. We had the test last Thursday (May 14) and passed it. That's the same test that I had that got me out of the car before Darlington.

"All the information has been given to the doctors, so we'll let 'em absorb all that. We're looking forward to getting back in the car and start testing in two or three weeks."

But Craven says he won't rush things. After a serious accident at Talladega Superspeedway in 1996 and his crash last year at Texas, Craven said he may have tried to return to action too soon after each mishap. The 1995 Rookie of the Year doesn't plan to make that mistake again.

"I'm in no hurry to get clearance," Craven said. "That'll come whenever. I'm going to get second and third opinions and cover every base. Obviously, there's a reason I'm in this situation. It seems to me the reason is because I didn't pay attention the first two times.

"I've learned from my mistakes. I need to make sure that I've got everything corrected. I'm real excited about being back in the car. I'd race right now if it were that easy, but there's no need for it. I continue to go through a whole process of things every day that I think will make me a better race car driver and certainly a healthier person. It's going to pay off.

"I've felt good before, so I remember what it's like. Then I've felt bad for quite awhile. I miss feeling good. Now, I'm feeling like I used to. I don't know if it's because all these things are working or because I haven't been bounced around for awhile. It's reassuring for me that we're back on the road to recovery.

"What's been difficult is being away from the loop. I miss that. This is my life. For 17 years, I've been at the race track every week, and then you're out of it. If it were the off-season it would be different, but every weekend I've got to find something to do to avoid the television or radio."

At the race track in Concord, "Louie the Lizard," Budweiser's pitch-Iguana, will go along for the ride with LaJoie in the Coca-Cola 600. Louie made his '98 debut in the Winston Open with a new paint scheme on the Budweiser Monte Carlo. After the 600, Louie also will be riding shotgun with LaJoie on May 31 at Dover.

LaJoie has subbed for Craven in six races this season and has recorded top-10 finishes three times.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Wally Dallenbach