Turning the final lap

With the ending of the 2009 NASCAR season, so, too, has my partnership with Yahoo! Sports.

I think back to the first column I wrote for Yahoo! leading into the 2007 season. It was quite a transition for me, from being sometimes written about while a competitor on the circuit to offering my view of the sport, its drivers (many of whom I’ve competed against) and, I hoped, bringing to light a few intangibles – things you may not have known before clicking on the site that day.

I appreciate very much the opportunities and experiences I have had and being part of a team again. That team (like those I raced with) has qualified personnel who are exceptional at what they do, specific to their area. I wish to single out Jon Baum and Jay Hart – two who coached me and two I consider friends (even if Jon is as loyal to the Yankees as I am to the Red Sox).

To put things in perspective, it is 7:38 a.m. as I write this. I’m sitting next to my 4-year-old, Lydia, who is tapping away on her “Leapster” as diligently as I am my laptop. Lydia is in the middle innings of taking over the world, or at least it feels that way when you’re on the receiving end of her orders and directions. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Riley and Everett have just left for school. Riley, my oldest and a senior this year, is an exceptional young lady who many say shares my determination but acquired my wife’s intelligence. Richard Everett is 13, nearly my height, which represents the only advantage he has on his older sister at this time.

Over the past year, he and his friends have become avid dirt bikers, something I did as a kid and have been able to enjoy with him.

I share all this because it illustrates me having reached my goal – spending more time with my family – when I ended my driving career in 2005. Working with Yahoo! has allowed me to do this while remaining connected to NASCAR. For that, I say thank you.

You, the readers, have been a barometer for me. Among other things, you’ve rewarded me with praise if you enjoyed or agreed with my views and opinions. And you challenged me when you disagreed. Both were great and both were necessary.

I believed when I was driving that the fans of our sport were the engine that drove us faster and further. In the last three years, I’ve identified that, to a degree, you are also shareholders in the sport – with voting rights on what you like, dislike or would change.

I appreciate all of you who support NASCAR.

Working with Yahoo! has allowed me to view my profession from a different angle, and I hope I was able to give readers a different perspective from someone who has been there. My goal was to offer insight into the grind of a 36-race schedule, how challenging the turns are at a particular track or how a rain delay can affect a driver and his crew.

I hope I was able to show you how I watch a race. How, when looking for an indicator of how strong a particular car is and what that driver might be up against on that particular day, I focus on how strong the car performs in the first three or four laps of a restart. How on flat tracks I focus on the very center of the corner, because it, more than any other part of the track, separates the good from the bad. How at Daytona my attention is on Turn 2, because that’s the corner that will challenge drivers to lift. Those who didn’t would more than likely prevail.

I’ve enjoyed all that I have done in the last three years. I hope you have as well.

Thank you again to everyone at Yahoo! and to all who supported me in this new endeavor.

Happy holidays.

Ricky Craven is Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR analyst. Send Ricky a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Dec 23, 2009