Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ricky Craven

Richard Allen Craven was born on May 24 of 1966, in Newburgh, Maine. Craven had a wide presence in NASCAR from the early 1990’s to the early 2000’s, and a winner in four different national touring series; these series includes the Busch North Series, the NASCAR Craftsman (Camping World) Truck Series, the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series, and the NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup Series. Craven is now a broadcaster for NASCAR on the ESPN and ABC networks, as well as working on ESPN 2’s NASCAR Now show since 2008 as a co-host on the pre and post race shows.

After seeing Ricky’s dad, the older Craven, racing during Ricky’s childhood, Ricky began to have an interest in going fast in the powerful machines of a racecar. Craven began to really fuel his interest in racing at the age of 15, in 1981, when he started his first race at Unity Speedway. At this small 1/3rd mile rural track in Unity, Maine, he won two races, along with the Rookie of the Year Honors for the 1981 season while driving in the street stock division.

In 1983, the still young Craven won 12 events at the Unity Speedway, and captured the track championship while driving a Peter Prescott 6-cylinder Buick, alongside his father who was his original inspiration for driving a racecar.

In 1984 after winning multiple races at the Unity Speedway, the young Craven started driving at the 1/3rd mile Wiscasset Raceway in the late model division. This year he won the Rookie of the Year award along with the track championship in a dominant fashion at Wiscasset.

After driving the first four years of his young racing career at Unity Speedway, Craven raced at Wiscasset Raceway in 1985 with success.

In 1986, Craven made his NASCAR debut, in the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series at Oxford Plains Speedway in his own #12, finishing 25th after suffering engine failure.

Craven, in 1987 joined the American Canadian Tour as a rookie driver when he started driving the #09 Buick for owner E.J. Prescott, replacing a driver who had won just three weeks previous, Kevin Lepage. Craven barely missed the Rookie of the Year honors in this series, by just 66 points to Paul Richardson. That same year, even after missing races at the first of the year, Craven still managed to finish 8th in the 1987 ACT (American-Canadian Tour) points standings.

In 1988, Craven finished a solid 4th place in the points, in just his sophomore year in the ACT series. This is impressive due to the presence of legendary drivers, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, and Dale Earnhardt, in past years in the series. But this success along with mediocre success in 1989, Craven was let go out of the E.J. Prescott car due to a lack of funds to keep the team going.

After two successful top 15 finishes in 1989 at Oxford Speedway in the NASCAR Busch North Series, after having to leave the ACT; 1990 was the year in which Craven completed his first full Busch North Series schedule. This resulted in him winning two races, along with the Rookie of the Year award.

In 1991, just one year after receiving the Rookie of the Year Award, Craven was crowned the champion in the Busch North Series, after winning ten times, including two “combination races,” or races that were combined with the Busch Grand National Series (the now Nationwide Series), in the #25 SpeeDee Oil Change Chevrolet which he partially owned. Also, Craven made his Winston (Sprint) Cup debut in the #20 SpeeDee Oldsmobile owned by Dick Moroso at Rockingham, where he finished where he started that day, in 34th position.

After having major success in the lower Busch North Series, Craven moved his way up to the Busch (Nationwide) Grand National Series full time in 1992, which in that year he drove Bill Papke’s #99 DuPont Chevrolet to the Rookie of the Year honors.

In 1993 Craven had a great year as a sophomore driver in the Busch (Nationwide) Series, while still driving the same car as the previous year, finishing over 90% of the laps ran, and having an average start and finish of 12.8. This performance in only his second year in the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series full time, led to a finish of second in the points to only Steve Grissom.

After the 1993 season Craven left the Papke team and became an owner-driver, in his #2 DuPont Chevrolet. So in 1994 after adding the pressure to himself of owning his own team, he still ended up winning 2 races and accomplishing 16 top tens. Through all of this success, Craven just ended up finishing second in the points in the Busch (Nationwide) Series, for the second year in a row, but this time to David Green.

After having two consecutive years of runner-up finishes in the Busch (Nationwide) Series points, Ricky decided in 1995 that it was time to make the jump to the number one series in NASCAR, the Winston (Sprint) Cup Series. Joining with Larry Hedrick Motorsports, and a long-time NASCAR sponsor Kodak, Craven qualified for every race that season, and also racked up four top-tens in the process. Because of his efforts that year, Craven will forever be known as the 1995 Winston (Sprint) Cup Series Rookie of the Year. Because of his impressive driving, Larry Hedrick signed over partial ownership to Ricky after the 1995 season.

Craven began his sophomore season in the NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup Series, in 1996, with three consecutive top-tens, and his first top series pole in the first three races of the season. After these great finishes, Craven was fourth in points, up until the Winston Select 500 at Talladega. At this race Ricky was involved in one of the most violent crashes so far in the 1996 season in which he rolled his car and brutally destroyed that area’s catch fence and almost flew out of the track completely. Due to this wreck he fell to 20th in points, and his momentum was broken and after this race he only had one more top-five and pole for the remainder of the season. This was Craven’s final year with Larry Hedrick’s team.

In 1997 Craven signed to race for Rick Hendrick in the historical #25 Budweiser Chevrolet. He made the most of this opportunity when he raced to two top-five finishes in the first two races of the season, which included a Hendrick 1-2-3 in the 1997 Daytona 500, when he finished third and his teammates Jeff Gordon, and Terry Labonte finished 1st and 2nd respectively. After his beginning season high, he was practicing at Texas for the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500 when his car crashed hard into the outside wall which gave him a concussion that prevented him from racing in the next two events. But Craven came back with a vengeance, winning the Winston Open and rallying for a final points finish of 19th, which was his best at the time.

Once Craven’s 1998 season started he started feeling the effects of the previous year’s concussion, and after complaining and being checked out it was discovered that he had post concussion syndrome. This caused him to miss thirteen races after only completing the first four, and when he got back and was able to race, he won the pole at New Hampshire, but he only got to race three more races for Hendrick Motorsports after New Hampshire, before he was let go from his duties, being replaced by Wally Dallenbach Jr. Craven did not manage to acquire another ride until there were just three races left in the season when he filled in for Ernie Irvan at MB2 Motorsports in the #36 Skittles Pontiac.

1999 was Craven’s first year driving for NASCAR’s newest team at the time, Scott Barbour’s SBill Motorsports, as he drove the #58 Hollywood Video Ford Taurus. While driving for this newly funded team, he didn’t finish any better than 19th, and after failing to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600 at the Lowes (Charlotte) Motor Speedway, he was replaced by Loy Allen Jr. A few weeks later at Daytona Craven replaced rookie Dan Pardus in the #50 Midwest Transit Racing Chevrolet, and drove that car for the rest of the season to only one top 20 finish.

Craven returned to the Midwest Transit Racing team for 2000 but failed to qualify for four of the first nine races, which forced the team to go to a part-time schedule. Even with this limited schedule of only sixteen races started, Craven still managed to gain four top twenties in the #50 Chevrolet, but due to the lack of starts, he only finished 44th in the points.

After Craven’s dismal past two years, it was announced that he would drive the #32 Tide Ford for PPI Motorsports in 2001, replacing Scott Pruett. This move was a beneficial one for Craven as he won his fourth Winston (Sprint) Cup pole at Michigan that summer, and his first Winston (Sprint) Cup race at Martinsville, holding off past champion Dale Jarrett.

In 2002 Craven won two poles in NASCAR top series, while also finishing in the top-ten nine times, and finishing a career best of 15th in points.

2003 was the year that PPI Motorsports switched their car make to Pontiac, and started building their engines in-house. That same year was the year of Craven’s last win, when at the Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway, Craven beat out future champion Kurt Busch by .002 seconds, which was the closest finish in NASCAR history since timing and scoring loops were introduced. This has since been tied once by Jimmie Johnson at Talladega in 2011. This race win by Craven was also the last win in NASCAR by a Pontiac. After Craven’s win, in 2003, he only had six more top tens and dropped twenty-three positions in points to 27th.

After going 24 races without a top-ten finish in 2004, Craven was replaced by Bobby Hamilton Jr, and only ran one more race with PPI, and that was at his home track at New Hampshire, in which he finished 17th. The final race of Craven’s NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup career was at the AMP Energy 500 of 2004 at Talladega, when he drove Joe Gibbs’ development #11 Old Spice Chevy to a 30th place finish.

After Craven retired from the Winston (Sprint) Cup Series, he decided to drive in the NASCAR Craftsman (Camping World) Truck Series for 2005. This year in that series he drove the #99 Superchips Ford for Jack Roush’s Roush Racing, to a win at Martinsville, nine top ten finishes, and a 14th place points finish . Even through the success, Craven and Roush didn’t work together again.

In 2006, Craven made his final start in a NASCAR sanctioned race when he started the Goody’s 250 in the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series at Martinsville in 40th position at the age of 40, and finished the day in 39th after the breaks on the #14 FitzBradshaw Family Dollar Dodge failed.

After 2006, Craven searched for a ride, but failed and decided to officially retire after he accomplished 497 NASCAR Series races in his career of almost 20 years in NASCAR. Since then he has worked for ESPN, and Yahoo! Sports as a NASCAR analyst. On a personal note, Craven married his wife Cathleen in 1996 after meeting her through her uncle, and Craven’s team owner at the time, Peter Prescott.

Wikipedia: Ricky Craven

Ricky Craven Statistics

Ricky Craven Site Biography

ACT 1988 Quick Facts

ACT 1987 Quick Facts

ACT 2005 News

Closest Sprint Cup Finishes

Ricky Craven Google News

I would like to send out a personal Thank You to the following people for the information they provided:

Dale Chadbourne

George Fernald

Ralph Mason

Stan Meserve

Jeff Taylor

Tony True