Darlington 400: Craven wins by inches

Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch in one of the closest and most exciting finishes in NASCAR Winston Cup history in the Darlington 400. The pair crossed the line inches apart having banged fenders all the way down the front stretch. They very nearly crashed after crossing the finish line

Darlington 400: Craven wins by inches

Craven and Busch, who clashed initially with two laps to go, dominated the late stages of the race as long time front-runners Jeff Gordon and Elliot Sadler dropped away with fading tyres. Busch led going into the final lap but Craven was determined and lined up the Roush Racing Ford Taurus, diving inside it at Turn Four. Busch's car then hammered into the side of the Tide Pontiac and the pair crossed the line with their cars in almost continuous contact.

"Oh my gosh," said Craven afterwards as he talked through the amazing finish. "I've done this for over 20 years and as a racer you dream of something like that. Being a New England boy and being attached to NASCAR my whole life I know there is no race tougher than Darlington - so this is the one I wanted to win the most. Wow this is sweet!

"Kurt is such a good racer. I don't know why we didn't wreck with a couple of laps to go. It was absolutely the most fun I've ever had."

For Busch, it was the third time this season that he has finished second and twice he has been leading in the late stages. With ten to go the man regarded as one of NASCAR's hottest properties looked a dead cert for victory having stretched a lead over Craven and the consistently impressive Dave Blaney. But inside the car things were going wrong: "I had to get a lead, the power-steering went away and I have never felt a heavier car in the world.

"We dug, and dug and dug but with ten to go it went all together. The car was getting real tight and it was all I could do to keep it out of the wall.

"It was an awesome race. He didn't give me room in Turn One and I didn't him room out of Turn Four and that's the way it is supposed to be. This was some hard-fought racing. We came out of Four and the wheel snapped out of my hands because I had no power steering. It looked like I turned into him and I grabbed at the wheel trying to turn back to the right."

Blaney, pole man at North Carolina in the second race of the year, took a career-best third and is looking increasingly like he is going to visit Victory Lane this season, while early leader Mark Martin fought back from a botched pitstop that dropped him to 11th to finish fourth. If it hadn't been for a missing lug nut he too may have been fighting for victory.

Mike Waltrip finished fifth ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr who was there or thereabouts all day but seemed to drop away when it really counted. For Gordon the bad luck continued. Having led for most of the second half of the race, he clashed with Dale Jarrett while lapping him and wrecked his front right tyre. Eventually the tyre gave way and put Gordon in the wall and into retirement.


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