Ricky Craven may not be racing cars any more, but the Newburgh native is racing up to Bristol, Conn., a lot more these days.
Craven, who did some round table segments on NASCAR Now for ESPN2 last season, apparently impressed the ESPN brass and accepted a contract offer by the sports network for this season.
“I’ll be spending roughly 50 days in Bristol,” said Craven, who has homes in North Carolina and Greenville.
In addition to his NASCAR Now work, he will also handle some five-minute bits on ESPN News on race weekends.
“It has been great. I’m really enjoying it,” said the 42-year-old Craven, who will be on every Monday night in May as part of his deal. “It has been challenging. It has been good for me. There’s a lot of opportunity if I work hard at it.”
Craven is also in his third year blogging and doing video work for Yahoo! Sports, he has a number of speaking engagements, and he leases commercial properties.
He said he does “very little” leasing right now as he is busy with his other ventures and spending time with wife K.K., daughters Riley and Lydia and son Everett.
Craven left racing full time in 2005 after becoming the 15th driver in NASCAR history to win races in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. His Sprint Cup resume included two wins, 17 top-five finishes and 41 top-10s in 278 races.
On the state of NASCAR, he has his concerns about how the recession will impact the sport, but said, “I’ve seen the sport survive a few downturns and it will survive this one. But if fans feel they can’t afford to go to races or lose interest in racing and direct their attentions elsewhere, I worry that we won’t get them back.
“The key to have the grandstands full is for the racing to be exciting. Kyle Busch is doing a lot to help that. He’s a personality on and off the track and that’s very good for the sport,” Craven said.
He is also worried that NASCAR may be losing some of its “senior fans, fans who have been with us for years.
“They need a Harry Gant type of driver to root for,” said Craven who noted that 50-year-old Mark Martin may fill that void.
Craven sympathizes with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has a “tremendous load on his shoulders” following in his late father’s footsteps and being chosen the sport’s most popular driver every year.
“The sport would benefit from him winning the championship this year,” said Craven.
But defending three-time champ Jimmie Johnson is the man to beat, according to Craven.
“It’s his title until somebody steps up and takes it from him and his team,” said Craven. “They have won, in large part, because they don’t beat themselves. And, come September [and the start of the Chase], they find another gear.”
Craven insisted that one of Johnson’s keys is he has run just 11 Nationwide Series races over the previous three seasons unlike several other Cup drivers who run a majority of the Nationwide races.
Johnson focuses exclusively on his Cup races, said Craven.
Craven feels Cup drivers stunt the development of Nationwide drivers by running in the Nationwide series.
“Any Cup driver who finished in the top 25 in points last year or is in the top 25 this year should be limited to just 15 (of 35) Nationwide races,” said Craven. “Let there be a Nationwide Series champion earn his way to the top and earn his way on to a [Joe] Gibbs or [Rick] Hendrick or [Jack] Roush team.”
He said he “applauds” NASCAR’s decision to eliminate testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks because it levels the playing field between the multi-car teams and the lesser-funded teams and he likes the “safety value, economic value and competitive value” of the Car of Tomorrow.