Newburgh native Ricky Craven is in his sixth year as a NASCAR analyst on ESPN and he said the network has given him “more responsibility” this season which is much to his liking.
“The majority of my work is in Bristol (Conn.) but they’re sending me to 10 tracks. I’ve already been to Phoenix and California and I’ll be going to Texas in a few weeks,” said Craven on Friday while enjoying some vacation time with his family.
There is no racing during Easter weekend.
Craven is an in-studio analyst for “NASCAR Now” and also has some pre- and postrace responsibilities. He can be seen occasionally on “SportsCenter.”
In addition, he will be a color analyst on some Nationwide Series races.
“I couldn’t be much happier than I am right now,” said Craven. “I really enjoy what I do and I enjoy the people around me.”
He said fellow analysts and broadcasters including Allen Bestwick, Mike Massaro, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree and Ray Evernham are people “I have been around throughout my [driving] career and now I can call them my teammates.”
Craven said the addition of former Indy Racing League driver Danica Patrick as a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup series has been a definite plus for the series.
“She is very popular and very marketable,” said Craven. “And she’s not just a pretty face. She’s legitimate. She can drive. I’ve watched her carefully and she has done some things in the race car that you don’t do by mistake.
“She understands her limitations pretty well which is a key if you’re going to improve. If you try to go beyond your limitations, that’s when you start crashing people and they lose faith in you,” said Craven. “She’s a really smart young lady who has earned everything she has received. She has a lot of energy. She has tremendous determination. She truly wants to get better and be a contender.”
Patrick is 29th in the points standings after five races. Since winning the pole and finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, her best finish has been a 26th at the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., last weekend.
One of her problems is she hasn’t qualified better than 37th in her last four races. She qualified 40th at Fontana.
“Not only has she had to make a transition to these cars, she also has to make a transition to these tracks,” Craven said. “You can go from running on a half-mile track to a two-mile track and then running at a road course. It’s such a diverse schedule and you’ve got to learn the tracks. Guys like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have raced at these tracks so many times.”
The latest buzz around NASCAR involves Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, who got tangled up while racing for the win at Fontana and it resulted in Hamlin’s car hitting the wall which wasn’t equipped with a SAFER, or Steel and Foam Energy Reduction, barrier.
Hamlin suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back and will miss five races, which will significantly jeopardize his chances to make the Chase for the Championship. Veteran driver Mark Martin will replace Hamlin for the next race and then Brian Vickers will take over for the next four.
In the previous race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Hamlin bumped Logano and Logano hit the wall.
“That contact between Logano and Hamlin was good hard racing. Neither of these two drivers was cutting anyone any slack the last two weeks,” said Craven. “But you don’t want to see anyone injured and have their season disrupted. There is a certain amount of risk involved. Sometimes we forget that. The cars and tracks are safer than ever but there is still an element of risk.”
Logano was confronted by Tony Stewart after the race for an earlier incident in which he blocked Stewart with 10 laps to go and Stewart wound up sliding back to 22nd place.
Stewart threw a punch that missed and Logano retaliated by throwing a water bottle at Stewart.
“What you’re seeing is the personality of the drivers coming through,” said Craven. “It’s healthy provided that they don’t get other people involved. You’ve got to allow them to settle it themselves. NASCAR has a job to do to govern the sport but you don’t want to see them overgovern it.”
NASCAR introduced the new Generation 6 cars this season, replacing the unpopular Car of Tomorrow, which had debuted in 2007.
The Gen-6 car is 150 pounds lighter and has more brand identity. The Car of Tomorrows all looked the same.
The Gen-6 features a Toyota Camry, a Ford Fusion and a Chevy SS.
“They’ve been a positive. There’s a lot to like about the new cars,” said the 46-year-old Craven, who ran 446 races between the Sprint Cup (278), Nationwide (142) and Craftsman Truck (26) series. “There was very good racing the past two weekends and with small adjustments here and there, they’re only going to get better and better.
“The fact they look like [family] cars that you could purchase is a bonus,” added Craven.