September 05, 2021:  at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. (HHP/Chris Owens)
The NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington Raceway. (HHP/Chris Owens)

Ricky Craven, Kurt Busch Named Darlington Honorary Starters

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Twenty years after their side-by-side battle at Darlington Raceway produced the closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history, Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch are teaming up to produce an exhilarating start to the Goodyear 400.

Darlington Raceway announced Tuesday that the legendary NASCAR drivers will serve as the Goodyear 400’s Honorary Starters on May 14. They will also serve as Grand Marshals for the annual Darlington Throwback Parade on Saturday, May 13, adding yet another historic connection to The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR.

“I still get excited watching replays of that incredible finish,” said Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp. “The fact that it is still widely talked about 20 years later is a testament to the legendary racers who made it happen. The way Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch raced to the checkered flag, and the way they handled themselves afterwards, is the finest example of good, hard, competitive racing that I can remember. We’re honored to have them serve in these dignitary roles for our upcoming Throwback Weekend.”

Who could ever forget it?

On March 16, 2003, Busch’s No. 97 Ford Taurus led Craven’s hard-charging No. 32 Pontiac Grand Prix on the final lap. Craven’s Pontiac dipped to the inside of Busch in turn four then leaned on the Ford heading down the final straightaway. Wheels touched, smoke flew, and when the checkered flag waved, Craven edged Busch by two-thousandths of a second. Remarkably, neither car crashed, and both racers were smiling ear-to-ear after that fantastic finish.

Although Jimmie Johnson’s win over Clint Bowyer at Talladega equaled that minuscule margin of victory in 2011, it’s the Craven-Busch finish that remains seared in the memories of longtime NASCAR fans.

“When I crossed over the start/finish line side-by-side with Kurt Busch 20 years ago, I had no idea if I had won or lost,” Craven said. “Similarly, after celebrating in victory lane with Kurt, I had no idea the positive impact this finish would have on my life. On that day, Kurt and I cemented a bond, a friendship, and we became forever linked to what I consider the ‘most difficult racing oval on the planet.’

“Every time I return to Darlington Raceway, I feel as though I am going home. It’s because of the way the people who operate the racetrack treat me and the connection I feel with all the people in attendance. So, to be asked to serve as co-Grand Marshal of the Throwback Parade and co-Starter of the race with my friend and colleague Kurt Busch is among the greatest honors I’ve had since hanging up my helmet.”

The feeling is mutual for Busch, who didn’t win that day, but cemented his name in NASCAR annals as a Cup Series champion one year later.

“I am honored to be a co-honorary starter for the Goodyear 400 alongside my friend Ricky Craven,” Busch said. “We have shared one of the most iconic finishes in NASCAR history for the past 20 years, and this again will be another thrilling moment for us to share at the track Too Tough to Tame.”