Daytona 500: Ricky Craven preview

HICKORY, NC (February 2, 2004) - Ricky Craven, driver of the No. 32 Tide Chevrolet, returns to Daytona International Speedway and the 2004 season as a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Although the Tide team has remained almost ...

HICKORY, NC (February 2, 2004) - Ricky Craven, driver of the No. 32 Tide Chevrolet, returns to Daytona International Speedway and the 2004 season as a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Although the Tide team has remained almost completely intact during the off-season, there have been some changes. Mike Beam, former crew chief for Craven, returns to PPI Motorsports in a new role, Competition Director. Owner Cal Wells and Beam hired Dave Charpentier, former Technical Director for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as the Crew Chief for the No. 32 Tide Racing team. The team also changed manufacturers over the off-season, switching from Pontiacs to Chevrolets. The changes may seem significant to the outsider, but the team is excited about the significance it can make in a positive direction for the 2004 season.

Ricky Craven, driver of the No. 32 Tide Chevrolet:

What does it mean to be returning to the 2004 season with Mike Beam back at PPI and the addition of Dave Charpentier as crew chief?

"It is an exciting time for the Tide team and I feel really good about the upcoming 2004 season. Mike Beam's return is sort of like seeing a brother come home after a tour of duty oversees and his return has been a big boost to us all. Dave Charpentier has done an outstanding job and brought some new ideas and enthusiasm back to the team. I feel fortunate to work with this group of people because I enjoy them. They are fun to race with and I think all that helps team morale. Anytime you are on the road as much as we are, it helps to enjoy the people you are around."

Your Tide pit crew was just amazing during the 2003 season, consistently performing quick stops. What does it mean to you to have the same group of guys returning for the 2004 season?

"I'm fortunate that I've worked with the same group of people for three years and that longevity is very valuable. It's very difficult to get and even more difficult to keep because when your team makes progress, and they rise to that level of performance, they become prospects to other teams. I' m thankful we've been able to retain the majority of the people and I think that's part of the big payoff for PPI Motorsports and the Tide team."

What would it mean to you to win the Daytona 500?

"It would be hard to put that into perspective because I think the Daytona 500 is the equivalent of any major event in sports. Whether you are a golfer and it's the Masters, or the Indy 500 or Wimbledon, there are certain events that go on each year that separate themselves from all others, and the Daytona 500 is the ultimate and the most prestigious race on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. I'm very focused on the Daytona 500. It is not a one-race season, but for this brief moment, that's really all that matters - just the Daytona 500. It is a race that every driver desperately wants to win and it's the biggest race of the year. When it is over, our team will obviously focus on the next event, but this race gets more attention than any on the schedule because it is the Daytona 500."

Teams put so much emphasis on superspeedway cars. Has changing manufacturers over the off-season been a factor in your superspeedway program?

"I know we are very excited about the new Monte Carlo and I think it is a great race car. With that said, there has been some transition, and the guys have had to work over time to change the cars from Pontiac to Chevrolet, but it is all about getting to victory lane. I think when we leave Daytona, we'll have a clear understanding of how well we've adjusted to the new car. I do know this; during the course of the season, I believe the Monte Carlo is going to pay dividends for us and I'm looking forward to the new season. I believe it is going to be our best ever."

With Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip repeatedly helping each other to victory lane, do you feel teammates are important at superspeedways?

"I still believe that if you position yourself as a fast car and a contender for the win, you'll get plenty of help. As the race unfolds, and it gets down to the last few laps, you are on your own regardless of who your teammate is or isn't -- your friend is or isn't -- and that's the way it should be."

What is your fondest memory of Daytona?

"The one, two, three finish in my debut for Hendrick Motorsports in 1997 was sweet. I would love to run that race over again because the three of us had a heck of a run, but this time I would have liked the order to be reversed. You get one chance a year to win the Daytona 500 and there isn't a race that I would rather win that than one. Finishing third that year was great, but knowing you've come that close isn't as satisfying for me as people might think. You want to win it."

Dave Charpentier, crew chief of the No. 32 Tide Chevrolet

What are your thoughts on the results from the Daytona test and your prediction for Daytona?

"I was encouraged and happy with the test at Daytona. The weather conditions weren't as good during the first session as the second session, so relative to the cars during the first test session with us, we ran pretty well. We didn't have everything on the race car that we will have when we go back to qualify, so I feel we will fare better than the test results showed. We found some limitations chassis-wise as we improved the rear travel -- we were bottoming out the right-side frame rail, tail pipes and fuel cell, which all were limiting how fast we could go. We've taken that car and raised all the right-side areas. We know from our chassis dyno work that we are going to be significantly better motor-wise during Speedweeks, so our goal is a top-10 qualifying time."

What is the biggest focus for a crew chief during Speedweeks?

"It changes because we are down there for two weeks and your focus shifts. It's a difficult two weeks. The first part of the week is getting through NASCAR's technical inspection as unscathed as possible. That's your first task, so the car is as close to the configuration as you tested it. Tech is a lot more difficult at the superspeedways -- they look at a lot more things. It's the first race of the year, first time through tech, and it's Daytona. The cars are under a huge amount of scrutiny at Daytona as opposed to a race later in the year."

"Next you focus on qualifying and getting a good lap on the board because they only decide the front row on qualifying speed. A lot of things have to go your way to be on the front row -- besides having the horsepower, and aerodynamically the right body, you are at the luck of the draw literally, as far as weather goes. The air quality and wind are factors, both of which are totally random. Hotter air temps and lower barometers take horsepower away. To put a top-two lap time on the board is very difficult. You can be the best car there, and still end up outside that top-two very easily."

"After qualifying, you have to focus on the Twin 125s and attempting to finish well in it to earn a top-15 finishing spot. If you wreck during the Twins, you have to revert back to your qualifying speed, so our goal is to post a top-10 qualifying speed, so we don't have to worry about missing the 500, as there are no guarantees. First, you have to focus on getting the best lap time you can get, then you can focus on the Twins. Once you have a good lap time on the board, you can try a few things in the Twins, and use that as a learning experience and not be so nervous -- you can be more aggressive."

"The rest of week after the Twins, you are focused on race setups and drafting. You work on getting the car to handle good in the draft and getting the car to pull up or suck up in the draft. My biggest thing is I want Ricky to be comfortable in it for a 500-mile race. We'll also work on balance over a fuel run."

"This year, I think we will be good, but luck plays a role -- from being at the wrong place at the wrong time to weather conditions. No matter what you do there are still some things you can't control. It is what makes this sport so interesting and frustrating at the same time. You can have a fast car in practice, but it takes almost four hours to qualify all the cars and the weather changes dramatically during that time. Some tracks you want to draw early and some tracks you want to draw late. Getting a wrong draw can seal your fate in the wrong way."

What is your fondest memory of Daytona?

"The first place I ever attended a NASCAR race in person was at Daytona in 1984. This was before restrictor plate racing and I really enjoyed it and started going back year after year. I can't say there was one thing that stood out over the other, and going there as a team member was awesome, but going to victory lane with DEI was really special. The next thing that I'm looking forward to is going to victory lane as a crew chief, as it would complete the whole circle."

Chassis No. 45: The Tide Racing team is taking Chassis No. 45 to Daytona for Speedweeks 2004. The car has a new body, as the team switched to Chevrolet Monte Carlos over the off-season. The car is basically a brand-new car, as it did not compete during the 2003 season. The only laps it turned during 2003 were during Preseason Thunder testing in 2003. The team will bring chassis No. 27 as their backup car. It was the primary superspeedway car for the Tide Racing team in 2003, running all four races and posting two top-10 finishes.

Speedweeks Appearances: Craven will make appearances at the following locations during Speedweeks:

* Tuesday, February 10th from 4:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m., Craven will appear at Daytona USA.

* Tuesday, February 10th from 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., Craven will sign autographs at the Kmart located at 1300 International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL.

* Thursday, February 12th from 6:05 p.m. - 6:15 p.m., Craven will appear on PRN's Fast Talk broadcast live from Volusia Mall, Daytona Beach, FL.

* Thursday, February 12th from 7:40 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., Craven will appear on MRN's NASCAR Live with Eli Gold broadcast on a stage in front of Daytona USA, Daytona Beach, FL.

Notes of Interest:

* The Daytona 500 will mark Craven's 253rd career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start. It will be his 17th career start at Daytona International Speedway and ninth start in the Daytona 500.

* Craven's best finish in the Daytona 500 was third in 1997.

* Craven and the Tide Racing team tested at Daytona International Speedway during the first test session for the NNCS teams held on January 6 - 8, 2004.

Snowmobile Ride: Craven spent his last off-weekend before racing resumed at his 7th annual Ricky Craven Snowmobile Charity Ride in his home state of Maine. Craven was named NASCAR's USG Person of the Year in 2003 for his charitable work. The event encompasses a 60-mile ride through the hills east of Moosehead Lake. Riders join Craven for breakfast, lunch and an autograph session during the day. The riders, corporations and businesses all contribute to the many charities that Craven supports. More than 500 riders participated this year and Craven raised more funds this year than any year before for charity. Please visit our online press center for a full recap of the event.

Tide Racing History:

* The Tide car has won the Daytona 500 once - 15 years ago, in 1989, with Darrell Waltrip at the wheel.

* The 2004 Daytona 500 will mark the 18th time the Tide car has competed in the Daytona 500.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Darrell Waltrip , Michael Waltrip , Ricky Craven
Teams Hendrick Motorsports