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Hailing from the far North East of the United States, Ricky Craven hardly comes from NASCAR’s traditional heartland. But stock cars were his focus since making his racing debut at the Unity Raceway as a 15-year-old. He graduated through the Busch North and Busch Series – winning the former in 1991 and runner-up in the latter second-tier of NASCAR in 1993 and 1994.
NASCAR Rookie of the Year
His debut in the top division Winston Cup was in the 1991 AC Delco 500 at Rockingham’s North Carolina Motor Speedway but it was 1995 before he returned with Larry Hedrick’s Kodiak Chevrolet Monte Carlo for a full season. Craven scored four top-10 finishes and qualified second at Charlotte to clinch that year’s Rookie of the Year.
His sophomore season included pole positions at Martinsville and New Hampshire and an impressive start to the campaign. Twice third in the opening five rounds, Craven suffered a huge impact when flipped in a multiple accident at Talladega and he faded to 20th in the final standings.
Texas accident and subsequent seasons
A move to Hendrick Motorsports for 1997 began with another third-place in a Daytona 500 1-2-3 for the team. However, his season was interrupted by concussion suffered practising at Texas. He missed two races but returned to win the non-championship Winston Open at Charlotte.
However, the effects of his accident lingered into the 1998 campaign. Eventually diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, he returned from another layoff to qualify on pole position at New Hampshire but Craven was soon forced to resign from the team.
NASCAR race winner at last
The next couple of seasons were spent without a competitive ride until he joined Cal Wells III’s PPI Motorsports for 2001. Now fully recovered from his injuries and completing a full season for the first time in four years, Craven’s number 32 Tide Ford Taurus beat Dale Jarrett in a frantic last-lap at Martinsville to register an emotional maiden victory for driver and team alike.
He finished a career-best 15th in the standings in 2002 and won again in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington – his Pontiac Grand Prix trading bodywork with Kurt Busch’s Ford as they crossed the line just 0.002sec apart in the closest finish in NASCAR history to date.
Craven left PPI mid-way through an uncompetitive 2004 season and made his final NASCAR start at Talladega in a one-off with Joe Gibbs Racing. Having retired from racing, he worked as part of ESPN’s commentary team for NASCAR.