MRN Flashback: 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400


With smoke flying from between the two cars as they came to the finish line, Craven was able to nose his Pontiac ahead to claim the win. (Photo: ISC Archives)


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Ricky Craven edged Kurt Busch in a slam bang finish to win the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway. Craven's Tide Pontiac nosed by Busch's Rubbermaid Ford by a fraction of an inch to score the thrilling win.

The duo raced tooth and nail over the final two laps of the 400-mile race on the historic 1.33-mile oval. They made contact several times before finally racing side-by-side off the fourth turn as they headed to the checkered flag.

With smoke flying from between the two cars as they came to the finish line, Craven was able to nose his Pontiac ahead to claim the win.

"I really didn't know whether I'd won or not," Craven said. "If we had lost that race, it would have been devastating. It's exactly the kind of race you want to win and the kind you don't want to lose. That was fun."

While the checkered flag contact will make all the headlines, the tangle between Craven and Busch with two laps to go was also memorable.

"I don't know how he saved it and I don't know how I saved it," Craven said. "Then we decided to do it again. I hope the fans got their money's worth right there."

Busch, who started last in the field after losing an engine in Saturday's Happy Hour practice session, slipped into the lead when leader Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler scuffled battling for the top spot on lap 271. Busch's Ford stayed in front of the field with a somewhat comfortable advantage until lap 291, when the hard charging Craven caught him.

"We came out of Turn 4 and the wheel snapped out of my hands," said Busch, who lost his power steering late in the race. "I didn't give him room in Turn 1 and he didn't give me room in Turn 4. That's the way it's supposed to be. …That was the coolest finish I've ever seen, and I was glad to be a part of it."

Craven's win came in the 100th Cup race held at Darlington.

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

Dave Blaney, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip rounded out the top five with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Bill Elliott and Tony Stewart completed the first 10 finishers.

The race looked like it belonged to Gordon, who is currently a seven-time winner at Darlington. But after the tussle with Sadler sent his DuPont Chevrolet into the wall, Gordon was forced to pit for repairs and wound up 33rd in the final rundown.

Kenseth rallied from an early race incident to finish in the top 10 and maintain his series point lead, leaving Darlington with a 57-point advantage. Kesneth did go on to win the championship that season.

The race got off to a wild start with several cautions in the early going. Jerry Nadeau spun his U.S. Army Pontiac on lap six to bring out the first yellow. Although Nadeau was able to keep his Pontiac off the wall, Kenseth and Jamie McMurray got together trying to avoid the spin and wound up with damage to both.

Only six laps later, Jack Sprague did another solo spin in his NetZero Chevrolet. No damage was done and Sprague was able to continue.

A big melee happened on the 22nd lap when Sterling Marlin and Jimmie Johnson made contact and started a chain reaction behind them that caused damage to Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick as well as others.

The Roush Racing engine problems that plagued the team the in the weeks leading into Darlington continued on lap 33 when two-time Darlington winner Jeff Burton saw the motor expire on his Citgo Ford, sidelining him for the day.

Lap 68 saw the day's fifth yellow when Ward Burton and Ryan Newman made contact.

John Andretti brought out the sixth caution of the race when after making contact with Jimmy Spencer, Andretti's Dodge cut a left rear tire and slid hard into the inside retaining wall.

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