Veteran driver has final ride in familiar car

Saturday, September 18th 2004, 12:06 pm
By: News On 6

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) _ Ricky Craven is looking for a new ride, but he does have a contingency plan if one doesn't pop up before next week's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Dover.

``If we can't be driving a race car next weekend, the plan is to be at Fenway (Park),'' Craven said as the PPI Motorsports team prepared his No. 32 Chevrolet for Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. ``We're working on getting some tickets. If we can't be driving a race car, then we'll be rooting for the Red Sox.''

Craven, a local favorite from Newburgh, Maine, is in the somewhat uncomfortable position of being brought back by PPI team owner Cal Wells III for a curtain call in front of the home fans after being fired.

It was announced in July that Craven would not be back with the team in 2005. Then, early this month, Craven was replaced in the cockpit by Busch Series regular Bobby Hamilton Jr., who drove the Tide-sponsored car in the races at California Speedway and Richmond and will be in the car the rest of the way after Sunday.

Other than finding a ride for the truck race this weekend at NHIS, Craven has nothing else lined up, so far.

He is happy to be able to race here Sunday, but it is with mixed emotions that the 38-year-old driver ends his four-year stint with PPI.

``On one hand, it is a great opportunity for me to say thanks and end the association at a place that is important and special to me, in front of a group of people who have been as loyal and supportive as any can be,'' Craven said. ``On the flip side, I've circled the wagon on whether this makes sense or not.

``At the end of the day, both Cal and I would agree that we've done more good for each other than we have had disappointment. It doesn't always have to end ugly. This is a good opportunity for us to finish it the right way and at my home track.''

Craven noted that the first three years with the team were good for both sides and resulted in both of his career victories and 24 top 10 finishes. This season has been much different, with no top 10s and eight DNF's.

``It is a performance business and we had a very disappointing first half of this year and where we are at, I'm fine with,'' Craven said. ``I do like the idea of finishing it the right way and having the opportunity to say thanks, and that is what my intention is. Sunday will be about basically tipping my hat to the fans of New England and say thanks for all the support for the three and a half years I raced for this team.''