Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Martinsville Speedway & Ricky Craven’s Other Cup Win

A large number of NASCAR fans are very familiar with Ricky Craven‘s second career NASCAR Cup Series win.

The sight of his No. 32 Tide-sponsored Pontiac barely edging out Kurt Busch at Darlington Raceway in 2003 is widely considered to be one of the, if not the, greatest finishes in the sport’s history. Even fans who weren’t born when it occurred could tell you that it was the origin of the “Have you ever? / No, I’ve never!” exchange.

But how much do they know about Craven’s first win?

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Craven came into the Cup Series in 1995 with minimal fanfare. He didn’t drive for a big-name owner like Jeff Gordon did. But like Gordon, Craven did win the Rookie of the Year title.

After two years of demonstrating a knack for outperforming his equipment, Craven landed the opportunity that many (myself included) thought would lead to his first victory. In 1997, he joined Gordon and Terry Labonte at Hendrick Motorsports.

It started well, with Craven finishing in the top five for his first two races in the HMS No. 25. But a vicious crash at Texas Motor Speedway left him with a concussion, putting him on the sideline for two races. Yes, just two.

Craven probably should have sat longer, but the effects of such injuries weren’t as understood then as they are now. Craven wasn’t as competitive after the crash. He struggled through the next 17 races, finishing 12th or lower in all but one.

In 1998, missed more races after being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. This time, he was out of the car for nearly half of the year. By the time he returned, his days in the Hendrick car were numbered, and Ricky was out at HMS before the year ended.

After a couple years of part-time, uncompetitive rides, Craven was given the opportunity to take over Cal Wells’ No. 32 Tide-sponsored car for 2001, the team’s second year of existence. He scored top-five finishes at Rockingham Speedway and Dover Motor Speedway and finished a career-best second at Michigan International Speedway. Heading into the Martinsville Speedway race in October 2001, Craven sat 22nd in the standings, with his strong performances offset by six DNFs.

The race was postponed to a Monday by persistent rain all day on Sunday. Craven started sixth in the Old Dominion 500 and led 91 laps over the course of the event, one shy of Bobby Hamilton‘s 92 for the most.

With Craven running third with 28 laps remaining, Hamilton made contact in turn 2 with race leader Kevin Harvick to take over the top spot. Entering turn 3, Harvick returned the favor and sent Hamilton spinning. The retaliation earned Harvick a one-lap penalty and ended his chance to win.

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While this was happening, the Tide car snuck underneath to take the lead, bringing Dale Jarrett with him as the caution waved. The race restarted with 17 laps to go, with Craven putting some distance between himself and Jarrett. But it didn’t take long for the No. 88 to reel the leader back in. Jarrett got alongside Craven on the final lap in turn 3, but it wasn’t enough, and the No. 32 held off the challenge by 0.141 seconds to claim his first Cup win.

In victory lane, Craven reflected on the ups and downs of his journey.

“I ran two laps with my visor down after the race because I couldn’t talk,” Craven said. “If you want to speak in terms of extremes, there was a percentage of time spent feeling sorry for myself, and then you look at this side of things and it’s like I’m on top of the world. This is the greatest day of my life, professionally.

“This is exactly what I’ve worked all my life for, and what makes it so awesome is that you question yourself. Am I going to get that chance? Am I going to win that race?”

Craven ended up failing to finish three of the final six races in 2001, stumbling to a 21st-place finish in the standings. He won one more race in his career, that being the previously mentioned Darlington epic in 2003.

After leaving the Cal Wells team late in 2004, Craven never had another full-time Cup Series ride. His last premier series appearance was at Talladega Superspeedway, driving the Old Spice No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Craven then spent 2005 driving for Jack Roush in the Craftsman Truck Series division, moving into the seat vacated by Carl Edwards. He did manage to score a win, once again at Martinsville, and in 2006 made one then-Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) start.

After that race, Ricky hung up his helmet and moved to a television analyst role. He may have only won two Cup races but they certainly were memorable ones.

Have you ever? Ricky Craven certainly has.

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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gbvette62

Being from the Northeast I saw a lot of Craven early in his career and remember him winning 10-12 Busch North (now ARCA East)races over a two year period. He initially struggled in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series, but after returning to driving his own car he won a couple times and twice finished 2nd in the Busch standings.

After Schader, it seemed that no one had any success in the Hendrick 25. I always wondered if Hendrick used it to test new parts for his “star” drivers or if the 25 was just snake bit. Craven’s concussion issues started long before the Texas crash when he nearly left the track at Talladega after being caught up in the “Big One”. Much like Dale Jr, I think the early concussion issues hindered his success for much of his career.

sdelfin

I know all drivers want more success than he had. Even the top drivers have races they feel got away from them. Craven seems to have gotten some bad breaks. Two wins is still something, especially when that car was not competitive every week. If you’re going to have two wins, being involved in two excellent finishes at two tracks that are considered drivers’ tracks is not a bad way to do it. Winning at those tracks is something to be proud of. Kudos to Dale Jarrett for racing so clean as well. I know he has talked about wanting to do it differently, but I think things like that help his standing as a driver.

I remember that rain-shortened Michigan race in August of 2001. Craven was the fastest car on the track when the rain came and he had a real shot at winning if the race went the distance. On the flip side, I was rooting for Sterling and he had the best car at the prior race in June, but they were having restart issues that year, so I felt like Sterling deserved that win.

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