Ricky Craven expects ESPN to continue NASCAR coverage ‘at a high level’

Posted July 02, 2014, at 5:56 p.m.
Ricky Craven
Mark Gaier | ESPN
Ricky Craven

Even though ESPN’s live broadcast of NASCAR Sprint Cup races will end after this season, Newburgh’s Ricky Craven, ESPN’s Sprint Cup in-studio analyst, said he isn’t worried about his future with the network.

ESPN will carry 14 of the final 17 Sprint Cup races this season and its sister network, ABC, will carry the other three.

But NASCAR has reached a 10-year agreement with NBC Sports Group that will see the network or its cable affiliate carry the final 20 Sprint Cup and 19 Nationwide Series races beginning next season.

Fox Sports will carry the earlier races in both series.

“ESPN will always cover NASCAR at a high level. I’m not concerned about it,” said Craven, who has been with the network for seven years and signed a multi-year contract in 2012. “I’ve built some equity with ESPN and the company. I’m familiar with it and comfortable with it. It’s a fabulous company.”

Craven is most often seen on SportsCenter providing pre-race and post-race coverage. He had been a regular contributor on ESPN2’s NASCAR Now but that was dropped by the network last month.

The Hampden Academy graduate will also be a color analyst in the booth for three of the Nationwide Series races carried by ESPN.

The Maine Sports Hall of Famer loves what he does.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined being where I am today. I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

The 48-year-old Craven is one of just 23 drivers who have posted wins in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. He won two Sprint Cup races, four Nationwide races and he also took one checkered flag in the Truck series.

He said being a driver has been of “considerable” help to him in his television career.

Having to deal with the media was part of his job and he explained that he learned the responsibilities of the job.

“In live TV, you’re very dependent upon everybody and everything being on time. Everyone is required to meet a timeline,” said Craven.

Craven said being well-prepared and focused are required for both jobs, which are both challenging.

“Being on live TV replicates [driving]. You’ve got to get it right,” he said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. I never take it lightly. Being challenged is healthy. I know it’s impossible to be perfect but it’s sure fun trying to be.”

Craven said he does get recognized more these days and he takes it in stride.

“People always compliment my career, a little more so than they need to. The conversation I have with them always begins or ends with Darlington,” said Craven, referring to his scintillating win over Kurt Busch by .002 of a second at the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at the Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina in 2003.

It was the closest finish in Sprint Cup history.

Craven also said he fields a lot of questions about Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is considered the most popular driver in the series.

“Those are pretty easy. I’ve always been a big believer in him as a driver and a person,” said Craven. “To win as many Sprint Cup races as he has [21] validates how good he is as a driver. He always has been and always will be a top 10 driver. And he’s a real good person.

“When my mother [Nancy] and I used to hold that charity snowmobile ride [in Maine], the Earnhardts [Dale Jr. and sister Kelley] used to send us a check every year,” said Craven. “With my (TV) role now, I can’t be partial. But I can be partial on a personal level.”

Up-and-coming young drivers in Maine are often compared to Craven.

Twenty-year-old Austin Theriault of Fort Kent is the current up-and-comer. He has a three-race deal with JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team, in the Nationwide Series. He finished 15th in his debut in May at Iowa Motor Speedway.

“I’ve gotten to know him the past couple of years and I really admire his professionalism and I really enjoy his enthusiasm,” said Craven. “I haven’t watched him drive a race car but I’ve asked enough of the right people about him and, across the board, they have told me he has all the tools to be a successful race car driver. He has the desire and he’s an easy young man to pull for.”

“He did an exceptional job at Iowa. To finish on the lead lap in your debut at that level is monumental,” said Craven. “The fact he was disappointed is healthy, too. I don’t see any reason why he won’t have great success.”

NASCAR changed its playoff format this season which all but guarantees a winner in the first 26 races a spot in the field for the Chase over the final 10 races. The Chase field was also expanded from 12 to 16 drivers. Drivers will be eliminated during the 10 Chase races, so the final race will have just four drivers eligible for the win and the one who finishes highest in the last race will be the champion.

“I have campaigned for seven years on ESPN that there needs to be more emphasis placed on winning races because winning is so difficult. Guys I raced against like Rick Mast, Ted Musgrave and Dick Trickle were very good drivers but they never won a Cup race,” said Craven. “I emptied my tank [for 11 years] and won [just] twice.”

“It has rewarded the sport. The racing has been exceptional. It has been a real good year for the sport,” said Craven.

Craven will be hosting the annual One for the Kids charity golf tournament at the Loudon Country Club on Thursday, July 10 in conjunction with the Sprint Cup weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Camping World RV Sales 301 will be held on Sunday, July 13.

“It will be fun. And it’s not too late to register. I would recommend that you play in a foursome behind me, not in front of me. I made a living turning left [in a race car] and my golf game is no different,” quipped Craven.

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