Darlington: 2003 finish - NASCAR spotlight

Ricky Craven, Kurt Busch return to scene of monumental 2003 battle DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 16, 2004) -- It was a moment made for memory, an ultra-quick snapshot that culminated a last-lap battle for the ages in last season's Carolina Dodge ...

Ricky Craven, Kurt Busch return to scene of monumental 2003 battle

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 16, 2004) -- It was a moment made for memory, an ultra-quick snapshot that culminated a last-lap battle for the ages in last season's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway:

Ricky Craven, 0.022-second ahead of Kurt Busch.

Taking place at NASCAR's oldest and one of its most exciting race tracks, it was the closest finish since electronic scoring was instituted and according to many longtime auto racing observers, the closest finish -- period -- in the history of NASCAR's premier series. The side-by-side, metal-on-metal scuffle has since become a staple of highlight videos, its intensity contrasting sharply to the camaraderie and sportsmanship displayed afterward by both drivers.

The fact that the drama unfolded at one of NASCAR's most historic facilities only added to the appeal. Clearly, it was NASCAR at its best, special then and even more special now, according to Craven (No. 32 Tide Chevrolet).

"From a purist standpoint, if you're truly talking about competing and entertainment and the combination of all that, we took each other to the very edge, not just for the finish, but for two or three laps and we didn't knock one another out of the race," Craven said. "And that, in my mind, is what made it so awesome."

Added Busch (No. 97 Sharpie Ford): "I don't think it ever really set in until the off-season how significant that battle with Ricky Craven truly was at this race last year. It is certainly my most memorable second-place finish, and probably always will be. It was a rare circumstance where Craven and I were both in the same mindset -- we both wanted to win, but neither of us was going to wreck the other to get the victory. If that scenario happened a hundred times, 99 of them would probably end in a wreck.

"But that was the ultimate example of two racers going as hard as they could to win a race. Maybe this year we can beat him by .001-second and rewrite the record books."

For Craven, it was his second career victory, following his autumn of 2001 victory at Martinsville. The first victory had more personal ramifications, while the second had far-reaching scope.

"I've actually learned to appreciate [the Darlington win] more and enjoy it more from the standpoint that you're a part of NASCAR history because of that finish," Craven said. "Although I'd love to win 10 races this year and get attention for that reason, that day was our time to shine. It has been very rewarding to be a part of such an exciting finish."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch , Ricky Craven