Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR
BY: Kurt Busch
It was on a hot Sunday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, where you get to go and dance with the old "Lady in Black."
Darlington is a place where you don't race the competition. You race the race track. Your ultimate job is to protect your race car and manage to not slide up into the wall, because you have to run inches from the wall for the fastest line around that particular track.
We blew two motors during practice, so I didn't have much practice time. My crew chief and I put a car together using the setups of my teammates at the time, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. Both of those guys ran great at Darlington.
It turned out to be a great race for us, even without a lot of practice time. We raced hard all afternoon and worked our way toward the front. The car wasn't perfect, but I just told myself to drive it like Mark Martin would, or like Jeff Burton would. What did that mean? I really didn't know. But I told myself to drive the race track and not be aggressive with the car, to drive it conservatively and not wear out any of the tires. Darlington takes patience.
Near the end of the day, I was actually able to make a three-wide pass for the lead, which doesn't really happen at Darlington. You're always racing the race track and just trying to squeak by another competitor when you can. On one of the final restarts, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler were battling side by side out of Turn 2, and I saw that the two of them broke their momentum. They didn't have the speed off the corner, and I was flying through there.
I thought, "Do I check up and pass them one at a time?" Of course, my right foot said, "No. We're going to pass them both at the same time." We went three-wide down the back straightaway, and I cleared them. I was in front of them by the time we got to Turn 3, and held the lead from that point.
Now it was going through my mind, "Do I need to conserve my tires? Or do I need to stretch out my lead and then try to preserve it once the tires wear off, to find out who's going to catch me?" I felt like I just needed to run a fairly steady pace, and run pretty quick, because I didn't think my car could hold off the competitors at the end.
With only 20 laps to go, I had a pretty good lead, and it wasn't Jeff Gordon or Elliott Sadler who was running second or third behind me.
It was Ricky Craven. He was clawing away at my lead. He was only gaining little bits at a time, but I knew in the back of my mind he was going to catch me by the end.
With about 15 laps to go, I felt my power steering give up in the car. I was really wrestling the wheel. I couldn't run the lap times I had been running earlier.
Still, I felt like with 15 laps to go, this was my race. This is what a driver lives for, to have the race on the line, a few laps to go, and you're leading. You've got to bring it home for the team.
It felt like the wind went out of my sails when the power steering went away, and then I was just wrestling the car as hard as I could, and lap after lap Craven was chewing away at the lead. I knew he was going to catch me before the end of it.
But with every lap that went by, I was more determined not to make it any easier for him to pass me.
There were two laps to go when he finally caught me. I was determined not to let him pass me. I was going to do all that I could to stay in front of him for two laps. Just two more laps.
We raced down the front straightaway side by side, because he got a good run coming off of Turn 4. At Darlington, you can't race into Turn 1 side by side. There's just not enough room. I felt like it was my job to hold the lead, and if he wanted it that bad he was going to have to come and get it.
He wanted it that bad. He came and got it.
We both went into Turn and I slid up into the fence. I pounded the fence pretty hard. I realized as I was going down the front straightaway that this wasn't such a great idea, but I couldn't give up the position, because if I did, he would just walk away and win this race uncontested.
We bumped and we banged. It was intense. He slipped ahead for an instant, but he couldn't quite get his car stable underneath him. My car bounced off the fence and was ready to go. I was ready to hammer the throttle because my car would do better in Turns 1 and 2, which are wider; the Darlington track is tighter in Turns 3 and 4 and you have to have the power steering to help you through there. But my power steering was gone, and we were running out of time.
I got back to him pretty quick and thought, "Well, if you were that mean to me going into Turn 1, I'm giving some of that back to you going into Turn 2." So I bumped him out of the way to get the lead. It was a perfect bump. I just moved him up to the high side and slid by him, so I had a pretty good run coming off Turn 2 to stay ahead of him.
We raced through Turns 3 and 4, and that big lead that I had was gone again. I saw how good he was in those two turns, and I knew it was going to come down to the final corner of the last lap to see who was going to get that checkered flag.
White flag; one lap to go.
He was right on my back bumper as we raced through 1 and 2, and I stretched him about three car lengths or so and came off Turn 2 with a good run. And then, he was on me. He was the closest he'd been, right on top of our rear bumper going into Turn 3.
I thought for an instant I would just put it on the outside wall and hold the throttle all the way to the pedal. But I knew that what I needed to do was hold the car low to take away some of his momentum in the low groove, where he had been running so well. I tried as hard as I could, but without the power steering I couldn't wrestle the wheel hard enough to hold it down in Turns 3 and 4.
And then, I had one little wiggle, and that allowed him to close up and get door-to-door with us. I kept my foot in it after that wiggle and came off Turn 4, but the car was so bound up with me holding the steering wheel as far left as I could at full throttle that it kind of shot off the wall and bumped into his right-side door.
Now my left side was locked with his right side, and we were both full throttle. He had to turn back to the right to hold his car stable on the straightaway because I was fully locked to the left. I was trying not to run into him but I couldn't get the steering back soon enough.
So there we were, door-to-door. This was it. I'm looking at him like he's looking at me, through the window, and I could just tell that his nose was an inch ahead of mine. I knew it all the way from Turn 4 to the start/finish line, but our cars were literally locked together. There was nothing I could do.
I was just hoping, praying, that maybe they would say we were ahead of him, but Ricky Craven beat me to the line by two one-thousandths of a second, after a full-fledged war we waged that day at Darlington.
The best part about the war was we didn't wreck each other. We completely exhausted every idea that we had -- for me to protect the lead, and for him to take it. To put that battle on created a lifelong friendship between two guys who thought the same way about how to win a race.
Still, every time I tell the story, I swear I'm going to win it one day.http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul/2010/07/NASCARs-Closest-Finish.aspx?source=NEWSLETTER&nlsource=49&ppc=&utm_campaign=DIBSoup&utm_source=NL&utm_medium=newsletter