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Craven can stop cravin' first Winston Cup win

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2001

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Ricky Craven lingered in Victory Lane, talking to anyone in sight and reveling in the moment -- his first Winston Cup victory.

When he crossed the finish line Monday and crew chief Mike Beam told him he won, Craven was overwhelmed.

''It's never happened in my life,'' said Craven, who began regularly racing Winston Cup in 1995. ''But time stopped and I thought, 'That's what I've worked 20 years for.'''

Craven won the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway by holding off Dale Jarrett in a door-to-door, last-lap duel. It was his first triumph in 174 career starts and one that erased a lot of bad memories.

There was his resignation from Hendrick Motorsports in 1998 after eight races sandwiched around a bout with postconcussion syndrome.

There were the past two seasons in which he was without a full-time ride and talk in the garage area that his career might be finished.

And then, suddenly, there was victory.

''I began racing in 1982 with the idea of getting to Winston Cup and winning a Winston Cup race and I've got to admit, the last couple of years, I wasn't sure I'd ever get the chance,'' he said. ''But here we are.''

In a race postponed a day because of rain, Craven pulled away from Jarrett on a restart with 13 laps to go, opening a wide lead. Then Jarrett began reeling him in, pulling up close to his bumper with about two laps to go on the .526-mile oval.

''I found comfort in knowing he was in my mirror because the guy is a gentleman,'' Craven said. ''I knew he would race me hard, but I knew he wouldn't rough me up.''

On the final lap, Jarrett went outside Craven heading into the first turn. The cars were door-to-door down the backstretch, with Craven hanging onto the inside position that eventually helped him hold off Jarrett.

''I ran the last 10 laps as hard as I could possibly run, but I went into turn one with a lap to go and said, 'I've got this thing,''' he said.

Jarrett was disappointed but thrilled for Craven.

''He did what he's supposed to do,'' said Jarrett, who was among the first to congratulate Craven.

Craven's Ford beat Jarrett's across the line by .141 seconds, giving owner Cal Wells his first victory in NASCAR's premier series.

The race proved a bonanza for points leader Jeff Gordon, who cruised home in ninth place and added 97 points to his lead over Ricky Rudd. Gordon leads Rudd by 334 points with six races remaining.

''It's just a nail-biter until this thing is over with anyway,'' Gordon said. ''What happened to Ricky Rudd today can happen to me next week or the week after that. You just never know.''

Bobby Hamilton, who won on this track in the spring of 1998 while driving for Richard Petty, seemed to have the car to beat until he and rookie Kevin Harvick got caught up in a bumping battle neither won.

Hamilton caught Harvick with 28 laps left and bumped him in the second turn to take the lead. But Harvick got him back in turns three and four, spinning him out and allowing Craven to slide underneath for the lead.

''I'm not sure I could have beat Bobby straight up because we were so even,'' said Craven, who led 94 laps to Hamilton's 92.

One more caution brought everyone together for a dash to the finish, and Craven had just enough to hold off Jarrett for the last 13 laps.

Ward Burton finished third in a Dodge, followed by defending series champion Bobby Labonte's Pontiac and Jeff Burton, also in a Ford. The rest of the top 10 included Benson in a Pontiac, Mark Martin in a Ford, Mike Wallace in a Ford, Gordon in a Chevrolet and Sterling Marlin in a Dodge.

Marlin moved into third place in the points race. Gordon started the race with a 237-point lead over Rudd. Gordon needs to finish 11th or better in the last six races to clinch his fourth series title. Only Petty and Dale Earnhardt, each with seven, have won more.

The race was typical of Martinsville, with drivers fighting for position and getting knocked around. The yellow flag flew 13 times.

Before 400 laps had been run, Gordon knew Rudd and Tony Stewart were both parked in the garage, their days over early and their engines blowing plumes of smoke.

Stewart, third in points, went out after 124 laps while running third. Rudd's engine gave way with 104 laps to go while chasing Hamilton for the lead.



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