Close to home, Craven finds comfort zone to make return

July 12, 1998|By COX NEWS SERVICE

LOUDON, N.H. -- Ricky Craven dispensed with the butterflies Friday in winning the pole for today's Jiffy Lube 300. Now, he can go for his first Winston Cup victory on the track where he gained fame.

Craven returns to the Winston Cup circuit after an almost four-month absence while battling post-concussion syndrome.

"It's hard to put this in perspective," Craven said. "Winning the pole was a big step. Now, I need a win. That's the next big thing."

When he left the sport after an examination in Atlanta, Craven didn't know when he would return. His doctors said recovery would take at least three months but told him it was something that could be corrected.

"They gave me encouragement, but it was awfully difficult to sit home on Sunday and watch the show go on without you," Craven said. "My greatest concern following that meeting was medically getting back to 100 percent."

He's there now. He passed the initial test two weeks ago, finishing ninth in the Busch Grand National event in Watkins Glen, N.Y. That gave him the confidence for a full confrontation on the Winston Cup level.

It wasn't coincidental that Craven made the Jiffy Lube 300 his return. New Hampshire International Speedway is nearly home for Craven, a native of nearby Newburgh, Maine.

He has raced 20 times here in NASCAR's Busch North series, winning the series championship in 1991. He was the circuit's most popular driver twice, in '90 and '91.

"We bypassed a few races to wait for this," Craven admitted. "One of the key elements missing for me was confidence. We knew we would have more confidence coming back here. Everything just played out perfectly. It was just awesome winning the pole. That was the perfect script."

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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