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Darlington produces wild finish

March 16, 2003 at 7:27 PM   |   Comments

DARLINGTON, S.C., March 16 (UPI) -- Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch gave stock car fans one of the best finishes in motor racing history Sunday.

After the two battled side-by-side, bouncing off each other at the start-finish line, Craven won the NASCAR Carolina Dodge Dealer's 400 at Darlington Raceway by mere inches.

The margin of victory was just .002 seconds -- the closest finish since NASCAR went to electronic timing in 1993. Prior to that, a stopwatch was used.

The cars were virtually locked together at the finish line after colliding in the final turn.

"We got together going into Turn 1 and I don't know how he saved it and how I saved it," said Craven, who started 31st in a Pontiac Grand Prix. "Then, we did it again at the end. I hope the fans got their money's worth there. I really didn't know I had him at the finish line. If we had not won that race, we would have been, devastated because that's the type of race you want to win. That was fun, just a lot of fun."

Busch started last in the 43-car field after an engine failure in Saturday's practice session forced his Roush Racing team to switch motors.

Known as "The Lady in Black," the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval again proved why it is the toughest, meanest track in Winston Cup. Jeff Gordon appeared on his way to victory with 22 laps left before he smacked the first- and second-turn walls to earn his "Darlington Stripe."

The scrape was enough to allow Elliott Sadler to close the gap. But as Sadler went to the inside of Gordon's Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Busch was able to get three wide entering the third turn and race to the lead in his Ford Taurus.

It was an uncharacteristic mistake for Gordon, a four-time Winston Cup champion. But it was typical of Darlington, which has slapped drivers around and snatched defeat from victory throughout its 53-year history as the South's first superspeedway.

Sunday's race was the 100th Winston Cup event at Darlington and may have been its best.

With nine laps left, the right front tire on Gordon's Chevrolet went down and he was forced to pit. Busch was in front of Craven and appeared on his way to holding off a very strong challenge, but Craven never gave up and was able to steal the win.

"I did the best I could," said Busch, who drove the last portion of the race with his failed power steering. "I was able to dig and dig and dig, but that car felt like it was 10,000 pounds. If we had power steering, we would have been in victory lane celebrating. My arms were numb, my brain is numb and of course, under the hood ended up numb as well."

Craven averaged 126.214 miles per hour and scored his second career Winston Cup win.

"There's no tougher place than Darlington Raceway," he said. "This is a track where I wanted to win the worst. I'm glad I got that chance."

There were 16 lead changes among 11 drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his Chevrolet in front three times for a race-high 91 laps. But his bid at victory ended when a loose lug nut forced him to return to the pits to get it tightened. He finished sixth.

Mark Martin was another contender who also had loose lug nuts drop him back in the order after leading twice for 71 laps. He finished fourth.

"That was a day where we had the goods to contend," Martin said. "It was so good that we came back from that last little problem we had. That's sweet. It's a little disappointing for my whole team because they crank out such great pit stops, but once in a while you drive her into the fence or you have a lug nut fall off. That's just the way it goes."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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