Winning Darlington team press conference Part 1 of 2 RICKY CRAVEN , NO. 32 TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: TAKE US THROUGH THAT LAST COUPLE LAPS AND THE WIN "It probably started with 20 to go after Elliott [Sadler] got a piece of the wall and...
Winning Darlington team press conference
Part 1 of 2
RICKY CRAVEN , NO. 32 TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
TAKE US THROUGH THAT LAST COUPLE LAPS AND THE WIN "It probably started with 20 to go after Elliott [Sadler] got a piece of the wall and we got past the '38.' Of course, Jeff [Gordon] got a little piece of the wall and then Kurt was out there and it was like, 'Well, here it is. We've got our chance.' We were so good on the long run all day. We had a package that was mediocre at best the first half of the run, but good the second half. We needed a 60-lap run. Had we not gotten a 60-lap run we wouldn't have even had a chance, but we had that long run and it got slicker and slicker. The sun came out and it just played right into our hands. We just started gaining speed.
"But, the last five laps were just - I'm really not sure. I'm going to have to watch it because...looking back it's the most fun I've ever had in my life. You ride up and down the road and you sit on the couch and you think about these things. This is exactly what you dream of. It will probably never happen again, but it's the perfect way to win a race at the perfect track. I have always wanted to run well and win a race here. We finished third here in '96 and ran well ever since, but never really had a good finish - had the pole, outside pole. But, today it was neat because we weren't the fastest car. In fact, we probably weren't the second, third or fourth fastest car, but the circumstances played right into our hands."
ON WINNING AT DARLINGTON "It's honestly the one place that I always wanted to win. Cal Wells will tell you that, my wife will tell you that. When I moved down here with Kay and Riley - Riley was six weeks old - we moved down in 1992. I came here. I was working with Ron Miller and he was friends with David Pearson. He asked David Pearson if he would give me a ride around here. David gave me a ride in a van. Jim Hunter was here and Jim was gracious. Jim's become a great friend of the family. He is a great guy. But, this place has been special ever since that van ride I took with David Pearson. He stops and he shows me where I need to get off the gas and how much brake I need to use. 'You don't worry about that wall. If you're up high enough it won't hurt too bad.' That was on a Thursday. That Friday we won the pole in the Busch Series. I remember when moving down here, of all the racetracks on the schedule, Darlington was the one that the drivers either loved or hated because it was an extreme in terms of emotion. The drivers that really ran well here loved it, but if you didn't run well here it was like, 'Just skip it' - just really, really couldn't get up for it. But, I knew at that point that I had to make up my mind, 'I like it,' or we would never run well. From that day on I have just loved it here.
"I'm not the world's greatest race car driver, but it suits me perfect. I like sliding around. I love being up against the wall. I'm not nearly as good as Jeff Gordon is here or David Pearson or some of these legends, but I'll tell you - I wouldn't mind running 36 times a year here. Right now, I'll settle for two."
DID YOU PLAN FOR YOUR CAR TO GET BETTER WHEN THE SUN CAME OUT? "It's really interesting. We got new cars, a new engine program, new crew chief, new engineer - and Cal and I had a conversation this morning sitting on the golf cart on the things we need to do a little better. We're 16th in points. We were 15th last year. We don't want to be any worse than that. We want to continue to march forward. We were like, 'Hey, we're on the same deal.' It was a great conversation. But, we decided yesterday afternoon. We didn't have a very good practice and it was interrupted with the weather a little bit and some circumstances, so we decided, 'Hey, we're just going to go back to a conservative setup that we know runs well.' It's a setup that we ran last year that we led both races last year and won the pole in the spring. We just knew we weren't going to be fast or get anybody's attention. But, from maybe the 40th lap I came on the radio and I said, 'Guys, it's not very good, but I'm going to tell you if it gets slick it's going to get better and better,' because my car was moving around a lot. It was just floating around. I stayed on the top all day. I never went down because I knew if we had any chance of running well and winning it would be on the top. The sun came out with like 100 laps to go and the track got as slick as it always does. I said, 'Son of a gun.' We found ourselves in the top five and we were maintaining that. Then, with 40 laps to go, I noticed that Jeff and the '38' car couldn't get away like they were earlier. It seemed like they were searching a little bit. The were super-strong early, but now the track as gotten slick, so they're moving around a little bit trying to find a better groove and they both had trouble. They both got a piece of the wall. Fortunately for me, I was up there all day anyway and I had hit the wall a half dozen times, so I had pretty much gotten it figured out at that point. But, the race itself - Kurt Busch is a phenomenal racer. He has won more races than anybody in the last six months. With 15 laps to go, I had to kind of talk myself into winning this race. There are so many ways to lose these things, but there is only one way to win them and we just got fortunate today."
COMING OFF OF TURN FOUR TO THE FINISH LINE, WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU COULD HAVE DONE TO HAVE HELPED YOUR CAUSE? "I think it's just all about expectations. The truth is, I don't have 35 wins. I don't have 25 wins. I had one win coming into this year in quite a few starts. Although my little boy thinks I am the world's greatest race car driver, the reality is I'm probably not. But, I do know I'm good enough to win races in Winston Cup. This was a place that I wanted to win in my career and I really feel like if I can win here - and we've won at Martinsville - if I can win at Daytona - there are places I want to win. Cal knows this, Mike Beam knows this, the guys that are on the team that I'm closest to - Scott Miller - I want to win the Coca Cola 600, I'd like to win Daytona - and Darlington was always at the top of my list. That was personal, as much as anything. Had we come up short, then you start scratching your head and saying, 'Man, I lost this by six inches. Am I ever going to get a chance?'
"I promised my wife that I'm not going to do this forever. I know what I want to do before I'm done. I know how many races I want to win and I know what will satisfy me and this was an awesome place. Growing up in New England, Darlington, S.C., was a million miles away, so the idea of winning here is quite different than winning at New Hampshire. It would be more reasonable for us to win at New Hampshire. We've got a history there. But, this will be the greatest race of my life. There is no question. Martinsville was special, but winning at Darlington - it's just personal."
TWO-PART QUESTION: WERE YOU AWARE THAT KURT BUSCH WAS HAVING PROBLEMS WITH HIS POWER STEERING AND, WHEN YOU CROSSED THE START-FINISH LINE YOU KIND OF VEERED RIGHT - WAS THAT A TACTICAL MOVE ON YOUR PART? "I didn't realize he had a power steering problem. I knew that he was driving the heck out of the car and he was having some problem with 'power down.'
"As far as turning right at the start-finish line, I thought that was more of a product of him turning left. Let me tell you - we made contact from the exit of turn four all the way down to the start-finish line. I've got to tell you, for a moment I thought about Geoff Bodine and Richie Evans in Thompson. That means nothing to you guys, but I remember Geoff Bodine and Richie Evans in Thompson - or that might have been Jimmy Spencer. Richie Evans and Geoff Bodine were at Martinsville, I think, in a modified. I watched two modified races that were like that at the end.
"I didn't think about anything but winning the race and I honestly don't remember having to be defensive with the exception of just sliding around. When we got to the middle of three and four, Kurt got some wheel spin and I thought, 'Yes, this is great.' Had he had some forward bite, I'm cooked. I could get to his door, but I'm not going to beat him to the start-finish line. Well, he got some wheel spin. I didn't realize he had that power steering problem. But, when he got some wheel spin I turned as hard left as I could, I went to the power, I immediately starting spinning the rear tires, but the car came off straight. With the car coming off straight I could power down. Then, once I got to the exit of four, that is when all hell broke loose. That's when we started getting together. And, I really don't know what it was like. I don't know if it was a good finish or not. But, I know the trophy is over in the motor home."
ON THE PROSPECT OF DARLINGTON LOSING A RACE DATE "Personally, it would be devastating. Personally, I would vote it down every single time. Personally, I think it's a mistake. But, from a business standpoint, the greatest way to prevent that is just to fill the seats. If today the product was good and it was an exciting finish, then maybe that will help.
"For everyone, it's never been a greater time to be in Winston Cup racing - ever. It's a heck of a time to be here in Winston Cup. The TV package is phenomenal. Everything is good, but that is because of the growth and that's because the seats continue to be filled and added and the purse gets bigger and bigger. I know that always comes at the expense of people's feelings or a place like this.
"I would consider - this is Fenway Park. This is a place - maybe this is The Masters. From that standpoint, I would vote it down every single time. This is a great racetrack. Personally, you know how I feel. I'll go to bat, but it is a business."
WITH TWO LAPS TO GO THERE APPEARED TO BE CONTACT BETWEEN YOU AND KURT...WAS THAT THE CASE AND DID YOU FEEL YOU HAD LOST YOUR MOMENTUM AT THAT TIME? "There was some contact. At that point, with 60 laps on my tires I think I slid up a little bit. He wasn't just going to surrender the lead. Heck, I wouldn't have either. But, I think I slid up a little bit and got a piece of him. Then, once I gathered my car up I think he gave me a shot or he got in my right rear. Then all of a sudden I found him in the front and I thought, 'How the hell did that happen?' I believe there was like a lap and a half left and I said, 'You know what? I've got one chance at this. I don't have a chance in three. I don't have a chance over in one. I don't have a chance in two. If I've got a chance it's going to be coming off of four,' because I had really chewed up my tires and he had really chewed up his tires. I don't know where the '77' was at that point, but he really could have benefited from all that. So, I gave it everything I had going into three and coming off of four. I swear to you, he got some wheel spin in the middle of turn three and four and it was just perfect."
AFTER YOUR HEAD INJURY IN 1998, DID YOU THINK YOU'D EVER BE BACK IN A POSITION LIKE THIS? "Well, it would be nice if I said, 'Yes,' and I was a great role model, but that's bull. That's not true. The answer was, 'No.' In fact, Kay and I talked about all sorts of different things, including making Greenville, Maine and Moosehead Lake our primary residence and 'what am I going to do if we don't get a good opportunity. At the time I was racing part-time with the '50' team and just not enjoying myself. But, I really think that you need to experience that. I don't think that's all that unusual. My story is a little different than everyone else, but I tell you, there are some great racers that have been through some tough times. Mark Martin comes to mind. Mark was on the outside looking in. He's a better racer than I am and he fought his way back. I think it made me tougher and it made me better prepared. Although I would never ever volunteer to go through that again, I think that I probably got what I deserved or I had to have it happen because it happened and look at where I am today. My gosh - it's been great. The last two or three years have been great. The answer to your question is, 'No.'"