Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kurt Busch Reflects on Closest NASCAR Finish Ever Back In 2003 at Darlington

Much has been made of the exciting finish in the April 25 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway where Kevin Harvick squeaked out a 0.011-second win over Jamie McMurray. That was close, but certainly not the closest margin of victory.

Heading into Darlington Raceway for this weekend’s SHOWTIME Southern 500, it’s almost certain that the closest finish in NASCAR Sprint Cup history will be discussed because the demanding 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval is the site of that historical race.

Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch has the dubious distinction of finishing second in the closest finish in the history of electronic scoring and timing along the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. Forever a prominent clip on the sport’s highlight reel, Ricky Craven beat Busch by a mere 0.002 seconds in the March 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway. To this day, losing that race still stings the 2004 series champion.

"It seems to actually sting more over the years," Busch said with a grin. "It didn’t really sting that bad when it happened. I thought then that it was so close, but I still had so many opportunities to win at Darlington coming up. I haven’t even been anywhere near winning like that since then.

"The more I tell the story the more I feel that I might can chop down that two-thousandths of a second and maybe finally wind up winning the thing," Busch chuckled. "It was one of the most dramatic finishes ever in NASCAR and it will always be a part of history. I was proud to be part of it there that day."

Even though that particular race was more than seven years (nine Darlington races – and exactly 256 Sprint Cup race starts) ago, Busch can still vividly recall the specifics of the race.

"I can remember it just like it was yesterday," Busch said of the amazing final few yards of his battle with Craven. "I went into turn three trying to give Ricky the impression that I was gonna go high, yet I cut the wheel down low. I was trying to make sure I made it as wide as I could getting in, so he couldn't commit to a line. When you commit to a line quicker, obviously, you can generate speed through the corner. So I went into (Turn) three low and there was no way I could hold it down like I needed to.

"The car pushed up a little bit and I knew he'd go low, so I didn't want to come back across his nose because I would have spun out and finished as the last car on the lead lap," Busch continued. "So I had to just carry the momentum towards the high side and get as much throttle-on time as I could. He started rubbing the left-rear, the door, the A-post, and as soon as he got up to my front tire, it jerked the wheel out of my hand and yanked my car completely into his. That killed my momentum and then we stayed locked from there on. I grabbed as much of the wheel as I could and finally tugged it back to the right to get off of him by the time we got to the start-finish line, but my momentum had been killed after that. It was just a hard-fought battle and one that they’ll probably be talking about forever."

But, there are more details to the story that didn’t come out at the time.

"The fact was that my power steering went out late in that race and by the time it got down to those last couple of laps, I had no power steering at all," said Busch. "The TV and radio guys were reporting that I’d just abused my stuff so badly that I’d used everything up; I just had burned the tires slap off the thing. It made for such a great story that I never bothered to mention that if I’d still had my power steering and didn’t have to manhandle the car like I was, I probably could have held Ricky off. Regardless, it was a historical race and I was so proud and excited to have been part of it. Ricky has always been such a first class guy and I have always had the utmost respect for him."

So, with the cars, tires, track surface – practically everything involved – being so different now than then, could we still see such a finish at Darlington seven years later?

"It can happen at any time and any place…and certainly it can happen at Darlington again this weekend," offered Busch. "For that day and that situation, it played out perfect for Craven and me to battle it out. What makes Darlington so unique is that both ends of the track are so completely different. That day my car was really good in Turns 1 and 2 and his was good in Turns 3 and 4. I think that’s what made the race there that day so special. I’d love to have another shot at it. As many times as I have replayed that race in my mind, it would be so cool to be a competitor in another finish like that."

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