Ricky Is Cravin Attention

Forgive Ricky Craven for being a little giddy Sunday following the NASCAR Winston Cup Series MNBA Platinum 400.

When you’ve been running like Craven and No. 32 Tide Ford team have in 2001, a fourth-place finish might feel like you’ve just won the lottery – almost.

It was the first time since the second week of the season at Rockingham that Craven and his team had finished in the Top 10. It was only the fourth time this year they had finished in the Top 15.

PPI Motorsports has also recently undergone some restructuring and will lose one of its crew chiefs – Joe Garone – at the end of the July. So, turmoil has surrounded the organization over the past few weeks.

Does Sunday’s run merit a mini-celebration? You bet.

“It’s such a big boost, particularly under the circumstances,” Craven said. “The last few weeks have been rough on us. We’ve run in the Top 15 and gotten knocked out or broke a shock mount or had really unusual things happen to us.

“But, we’ve rebounded. That’s the sign of a tough team. We’ve got a tough team and can rebound from what we’ve had the last few weeks. There’s no substitute for confidence.”

Craven made up a lot of distance between himself and leader Jeff Gordon at the end of the race, but Gordon was just too dominant to be caught by anyone, let alone Craven.

The fourth-place finish was the team’s best of the season and best since a fifth-place run at Rockingham. Since then, Craven has finished no higher than 27th, including 40th or worse three times, and has fallen to 26th in the Winston Cup points standings.

“That was good,” team owner Cal Wells said of Craven’s run Sunday. “We just need to keep from screwing ourselves up. If we’d stop shooting ourselves in the foot – I’ve got a couple of toes left – hopefully we can bring something home.”

“We were off just a little bit, but it was a good effort for us,” crew chief Mike Beam said. “This was kind of like Rockingham. You know, we just keep digging and digging.”

Garone, the crew chief of the No. 96 McDonald’s Ford, resigned last week effective in a few weeks, for personal reasons. With two children and another one on the way, he took a job with NASCAR and its research and development team so he could stay home and be with his family more.

The first-year McDonald’s team has struggled harder than Craven’s team. Houston has failed to qualify for three races and is 40th in the points, so Wells hasn’t exactly had a lot to smile about lately.

One thing that hasn’t wavered, however, is Wells’s confidence in Craven, who signed on with PPI Motorsports prior to the start of the 2001 campaign. Since winning Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, Craven’s career has been beset by serious injuries and his signings with under-financed teams. But, he has scrapped and fought his way back to find his niche at NASCAR’s highest level.

“He’s a good race car driver, he just needed an opportunity to get a full-time deal again,” Wells said. “So often people perceive an accident somebody’s in, and they perceive that person to be damaged goods.

“You know, it’s so competitive here, you’ve got so many young stars who are coming up all the time to fight for your seat, and that made it tough for him. We needed somebody with maturity to work with young Andy Houston, whom we have great, great respect for. Ricky was that guy, and he was the right guy. And he proved that again (Sunday).”

Craven just hopes he can sustain that momentum, starting with this weekend’s Kmart 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

“Shoot that felt good. It’s just so much fun contending, and we’re a contender,” Craven said. “This was a great day (Sunday at Dover), now we have to get ready for next week and try to keep it going.”

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