Motorsport News

Revisiting a Wild Darlington Finish … No, Not THAT One

NASCAR Cup Series

2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the iconic 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 that etched its way into NASCAR history.

Don’t remember that race? Here’s a quick rundown.

On March 16, 2003, Kurt Busch was leading in the closing laps when his power steering failed. That allowed Ricky Craven to close and swap the lead with Busch several times in the last five laps in a great battle for the lead. Off of turn 4 on the final lap, they door-slammed all the way to the line, where Craven edged Busch by 0.002 seconds — which is still tied for the closest finish in NASCAR history.

It was an upset win for both Craven and his team, PPI Motorsports — the win was just the second (and final) career win for both parties. They shared their first win together at Martinsville Speedway in 2001.

That Darlington finish has widely been talked about ever since — as it should be. However, that weekend’s NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) race had an equally awesome finale but gets overshadowed by the Cup finish. Part of that reason is how historic the finish was, not to mention the aforementioned upset from Craven and crew. But it’s also because the Cup race actually ran first that weekend, leaving the entire Busch race forgotten about, let alone the finish.

That Darlington Busch race was scheduled to run on Saturday, March 15, but weather forced NASCAR to push the race to Monday, March 17, after the Sunday Cup race. Stanton Barrett started from the pole due to the weather, but the story became about Todd Bodine, who led a total of 71 laps on the day in an unsponsored No. 92, and Jamie McMurray, who was running a part-time schedule in Phoenix Racing’s No. 1 and cared more about wins than points.

The race went green for the last 80 laps. After one last cycle of pit stops under green, Stacy Compton tried to pull off an upset by staying out until the finish instead. Bodine and McMurray both ran down Compton and took him three-wide with three laps to go to take over first and second.

Bodine was able to hold McMurray off until turn 4 on the final lap. After it looked like McMurray had no chance to pass “The Onion”, he somehow found grip on the outside of Bodine coming off of turn 4 — it looked like McMurray got shot out of a cannon in the middle of turn 3.

McMurray and Bodine were side-by-side off of turn 4, reminiscent of just 24 hours prior. They even made contact with each other just like the day before.


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