Newburgh native Ricky Craven was an overachiever as a race car driver.
From his humble beginnings at local tracks like Unity Raceway and Speedway 95, he worked his way to the pinnacle: the Sprint Cup Series where he won two races and had 17 top-five finishes and 41 top-10s in 278 races.
He was Rookie of the Year in the Busch North, Busch (now Nationwide) and Sprint Cup series and, when he won a Craftsman Truck Series race, he became just the 15th driver to win a Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck series race.
Now he is moving up the ranks as a NASCAR analyst at ESPN.
Craven recently learned that in addition to his in-studio duties for the weekly NASCAR Now series and providing post-race Sprint Cup coverage for ESPN NEWS and SportsCenter, he will be in the booth serving as the color analyst for seven Nationwide Series races this season after doing five last year.
“And I’ll be down in Daytona (Fla.) for the whole week leading up to the Daytona 500 (Feb. 13-20). I was there just two days last year,” said the 44-year-old Craven.
He began doing bits for SportsCenter in the second half of the season a year ago.
“I’d do a bit immediately after a race. It was terrific,” said Craven.
He is indebted to ESPN for giving him the opportunity four years ago and he’s running with it.
“They’ve been very good to me. Every year, they’ve added a little more responsibility. I’m very appreciative of being involved at Daytona for the whole week this year,” said Craven. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”
“Whenever they add to your responsibilities, it’s really healthy. It’s challenging and it requires you to prepare even more and that’s what I’m all about,” added Craven. “I really enjoy what I do.”
ESPN and ABC, which owns ESPN, will televise the final 17 Sprint Cup races beginning with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31.
NASCAR has recently implemented a rule that requires drivers to choose which division they intend to race for a points championship. This is designed to eliminate the domination of Sprint Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series.
Cup drivers can still run in the Nationwide series, but they can’t win the points title.
“I like it,” said Craven. “It helps the identity of the Nationwide series.”
He said when he was racing in the Nationwide series, it was a proving ground for future Cup drivers like himself, Jeff and Ward Burton, and Jeff Gordon. They eventually graduated to the Sprint Cup series after paying their dues and enticing Cup owners to sign them based on their performance in the Nationwide series.
That’s how it should be, Craven said.
Last season, Justin Allgaier was the only Nationwide series regular to win a race in the series.
“That speaks volumes,” said Craven.
There is always speculation about changing the points system, but Craven called himself a purist and said he likes it the way it is.
“Why do we need to change it?” posed Craven. “The greatest argument most people have for change has to do with Jimmie Johnson winning five consecutive titles. That has nothing to do with the system.
“It has to do with the quality of the athlete.”
He said Denny Hamlin, the runner-up last year, could be the one to unseat Johnson this year.
“You have to lose a title before you win one. Hamlin will be even better than last year,” said Craven, referring to the fact Hamlin had the points lead entering the last race only to have Johnson finish higher and claim the title.