MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Ricky Craven needed more than 10 years and 211 Winston Cup races before he earned the right to return to a track as defending champion.
That's what they'll call him Sunday before the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and Craven can't help but feel good about how he became a first-time winner in NASCAR's top series.
"We had to race as hard as we've ever raced the last 15 laps," he said, recalling his side-by-side battle last October with Dale Jarrett. "That's very important to me."
Not long after climbing from his car, Craven called his daughter at school to tell her he'd won. He received congratulations from Jarrett and many other drivers who knew of Craven's difficult journey to the winner's circle.
The 32-year-old driver from Newburgh, Maine, still relishes the way the fight to the finish played out.
Only one lap remained when Jarrett pulled his Ford to the outside of Craven's, inches or less away from being able to knock the leader aside.
It never happened, and Craven beat Jarrett to the checkered flag by .141 seconds. Craven was a winner in his 174th start, and his emotion was magnified by how a beaten Jarrett reacted.
"The satisfaction for me was not just winning the race and how we won it, but the fact that the first driver to get to me was Dale Jarrett," Craven said.
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