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A photo-finish win



Published: Mon, March 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



He beat Kurt Busch by two-thousandths of a second, while Dave Blaney was third.

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) -- Ricky Craven did his part to keep NASCAR from ever leaving Darlington Raceway.

With the sport's first superspeedway on notice it might lose this race to realignment, Craven pulled off the most breathtaking finish in its 100 Winston Cup races, beating Kurt Busch by inches Sunday in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.

Dave Blaney was third, his best finish ever in Winston Cup.

Craven has long loved coming to Darlington and thinks it would be a mistake to leave, now more than ever.

"If today, the product was good and it was an exciting finish," he said, "then maybe that will help."

The margin of victory was two-thousandths of a second -- the smallest since NASCAR introduced electronic timing in 1993.

And it followed a slam-bang, last-lap duel that had everyone -- including Craven -- wondering who won.

Craven's crew chief, Scott Miller, came on the radio as the driver slowed and told him how incredible the finish was. "I actually got a little frustrated because I thought, 'Great, great. Glad we entertained you. But did we win the race?"'

Busch had good lead

Busch thought he had the race won only laps earlier when he made an incredible three-wide pass -- "I don't know that I've ever seen anybody do that here," said NASCAR vice president and former Darlington president Jim Hunter -- to take the lead from six-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon.

But Craven kept charging from fourth. He passed pole-starter Elliott Sadler, who bounced off the wall, on lap 271 of the 293-lap event. Then Craven chased down Busch.

Busch, the 24-year-old Roush Racing driver, had started the race from the back when his engine broke down in Saturday's practice. And now with the race on the line, Busch's power steering began to fail.

Craven slid closer on every lap, and finally pulled alongside Busch twice on lap 291. As they drove into the first turn on the next lap, Craven bumped Busch and nearly sent him into the wall as he took the lead.

Busch regained control of his car and bumped past Craven in the second turn, nearly putting Craven in the wall.

"He wasn't going to surrender the lead," Craven said. "Heck, I wouldn't have either."

Battle to finish line

Busch held on until the final turn when Craven moved to the inside of Busch's car and the two started bouncing off each other. Craven was barely in front at the end and gained his first win since Martinsville in October 2001.

Busch, who lost a tight battle with Dale Jarrett at Rockingham earlier this season, was worn out trying to drive without power steering. But he was just as excited as Craven about the battle.

"That was the coolest finish that I've ever seen and I'm glad to be a part of it," he said. "It's a bit stale that I was on the wrong end of it, but it was just an awesome duel between two guys that don't win all that often."

Blaney was followed by Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sadler and series points leader Matt Kenseth.

"A day like this is huge for us," said Blaney, whose previous career-best finishes were three sixth-place finishes in 2001. "I've felt all along I could race with these guys, but it's just tough to get everything put together. I feel like we've got a team that's running well. Everything is flowing pretty good."

Craven knows he'll never forget his magnificent moment at the "Track Too Tough to Tame."

"I'll be 65 years old. I'll be sitting on the porch with my wife up on Moosehead Lake," Craven said, "and I'll tell this story 100,000 times about how we won."

He'll never have to remind anyone who saw it.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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