2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
|Race 5 of 36 in the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
The photo finish between Craven and Busch
|Date||March 16, 2003|
|Location||Darlington Raceway (Darlington, South Carolina)|
|Course||Permanent racing facility
1.366 mi (2.198 km)
|Distance||293 laps, 400.238 mi (644.014 km)|
|Weather||Temperatures reaching up to 64.4 °F (18.0 °C); wind speeds up to 11.1 miles per hour (17.9 km/h)|
|Average speed||126.214 miles per hour (203.122 km/h)|
|Driver||Elliott Sadler||Yates Racing|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|Television in the United States|
The 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 was held on March 16, 2003, at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina and was the fifth race of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. According to the members of the official NASCAR media website, this event has been declared to be one of the best races of the 2000s decade.
The race was remembered for the finish as Ricky Craven won the race in a stunning, side panel rubbing battle to the checkers with Kurt Busch; at the start/finish line Craven edged out Busch by .002 thousands of a second.
It was the closest finish in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history, although that mark his since been tied by Jimmie Johnson's finish over Clint Bowyer in the 2011 Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. In general, it is not the closest in history among the three major series, in the 1995 Total Petroleum 200, Butch Miller beat Mike Skinner by .001 in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Colorado. Earlier in the race, Busch missed entering pit road while green flag pit stops were occurring. Elliott Sadler won the pole for the race, his first of the season. It was also the final NASCAR win for Pontiac as they left the series at the end of the season and it was Dave Blaney's first top 5 finish with a third place effort.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led the most laps of the race with 91 out of the 293-lap distance. Early in the race, Jerry Nadeau was running in second until he spun all by himself in turn one which brought out the first caution. The championship leader, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray made contact to avoid Nadeau and Kenseth spun, entering turn two. Just a few laps later, Jack Sprague got loose in turn four and spun around without any serious damage. Ryan Newman, who started second in this race and Ward Burton were running side by side until both of them were around in turn two. Soon after that, Sterling Marlin and Jimmie Johnson were running side-by-side, and both ran out of room sending Marlin in to the wall. A corner later, he would hit the wall again and collected Bobby Labonte, Tony Raines, Kevin Harvick and Sprague.
With 24 laps to go, polesitter Elliott Sadler was trying to take the lead from Jeff Gordon. His tentative bid for the lead in Turn 2 was unsuccessful, and 3rd place Kurt Busch was perfectly positioned to pass Sadler and Gordon on the backstretch without his momentum being disturbed. By 15 laps to go Busch had a 3 second lead over new 2nd place runner Ricky Craven, despite losing power steering in his Roush Racing Ford. By this time, Gordon had fallen nearly half a lap behind Busch after brushing the wall and damaging the toe in the right front. On Lap 284 he brushed the wall again in Turn 3, and was subsequently hit by Kenny Wallace right behind him, but the race continued under green.
As Gordon struggled with multiple pit stops, the battle for the lead was heating up. With 2 laps to go, Craven had caught Busch. He made his bid for the lead on the inside at Turn 1 after they were at a virtual dead heat at the start-finish line. They made light contact in Turn 1, making both cars slide up to the wall, with Craven's car leaning on Busch's. However, Craven pushed as soon as he cleared Busch, allowing the Vegas native to execute the bump n' run to reclaim the lead. Busch ran away down the backstretch, but Craven's car was clearly faster in Turns 3 & 4, and they were bumper to bumper at the white flag. This time, Craven made no attempt to pass Busch in Turns 1 & 2. Busch entered Turn 3 somewhat low and Craven high, but Busch slid high as Craven managed to cut to the bottom groove to draw even with Busch at the exit of Turn 4. At that moment Busch and Craven each got loose and corrected into each other (Busch up high, Craven down low), and the ill-handling cars continued to slam into one another as they sped towards the checkered flag, with Craven narrowly defeating Busch by a record margin of victory.
Standings after the race
|4||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||634|
|10||Johnny Benson, Jr.||575|
- Weather information for the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at The Old Farmers' Almanac
- 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Voted Best NASCAR Race of the Decade at Darlington Raceway
- 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
- "2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 - Racing Reference.info".
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|NASCAR Winston Cup Series season
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