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The 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, the 47th running of the Rebel 400, was held on March 16, 2003 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, United States as the fifth race of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season. According to the members of the official NASCAR media website, this race has been declared to be one of the best races of the 2000s decade.[3] It also marked Pontiac's final NASCAR win before they pulled factory support at the conclusion of the season and went defunct in 2010 during the Great Recession.

2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
Race details[1][2]
Race 5 of 36 in the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season
The photo finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch
The photo finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch
Date March 16, 2003 (2003-March-16)
Official name Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
Location Darlington Raceway
Darlington, South Carolina
Course 1.366 mi (2.198 km)
Distance 293 laps, 400.238 mi (644.014 km)
Weather Chilly with temperatures approaching 64.4 °F (18.0 °C); wind speeds up to 11.1 miles per hour (17.9 km/h)[1]
Average speed 126.214 miles per hour (203.122 km/h)[2]
Attendance 55,000[2]
Pole position
Driver Yates Racing
Most laps led
Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Laps 91
No. 32 Ricky Craven PPI Motorsports
Television in the United States
Network FOX
Announcers Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds
Radio in the United States
Radio MRN
Booth Announcers Joe Moore and Barney Hall
Turn Announcers Dave Moody (1 & 2) and Mike Bagley (3 & 4)



Darlington Raceway, nicknamed by many NASCAR fans and drivers as "The Lady in Black" or "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and advertised as a "NASCAR Tradition", is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is of a unique, somewhat egg-shaped design, an oval with the ends of very different configurations, a condition which supposedly arose from the proximity of one end of the track to a minnow pond the owner refused to relocate. This situation makes it very challenging for the crews to set up their cars' handling in a way that will be effective at both ends.


The race was remembered for the finish as Ricky Craven won the race in a stunning, side-panel-rubbing battle to the checker flag with Kurt Busch; at the start/finish line, he edged out Busch by 0.002 seconds.[4] This was the closest finish in all of NASCAR 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. In general, it is not the closest in history among the three major series because in the 1995 Total Petroleum 200, Butch Miller beat Mike Skinner by 0.001 in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Colorado. Earlier in the race, Busch missed entering pit road while green flag pit stops were taking place. Elliott Sadler won the pole for this race, making it his first for the season. It was also Pontiac's final win for NASCAR, as they left the series at the end of the season. This was Dave Blaney's first top five finish with a third-place effort.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps of the race with 91 out of 293. Early in the race, Jerry Nadeau was running second until he spun out in turn one, bringing out the first caution. Matt Kenseth (the championship points leader) and Jamie McMurray made contact trying to avoid Nadeau, and Kenseth spun out entering turn two. Just a few laps later, Jack Sprague got loose in turn four and spun out, although his car did not have any serious damage. second-place starter Ryan Newman and Ward Burton were running side by side until both they were got around in turn two. A short time later, Sterling Marlin and Jimmie Johnson were running side-by-side and they both ran out of room, causing Marlin to hit the wall. A corner later, he hit the wall again, collecting Sprague, Bobby Labonte, Tony Raines, and Kevin Harvick.

Closing lapsEdit

With 24 laps to go, Sadler was trying to take the lead from Jeff Gordon. His tentative bid for the lead in turn two was unsuccessful and Kurt Busch, who was running third, perfectly was positioned to pass Sadler and Gordon on the backstraightaway without having his momentum being disturbed. With 15 laps to go, Busch (despite losing power steering in his No.97 Ford for Roush Racing) had a three-second lead over Ricky Craven, who was now running second. 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 again brushed the wall in turn three, and subsequently was hit by Kenny Wallace right behind him, but the race however stayed under green.

As Gordon struggled with multiple pit stops, the battle for the lead was heating up. With two laps to go, Craven caught Busch. He made his bid for the lead on the inside of turn three, after they met at a virtual dead heat at the start-finish line. They made light contact in turn one, 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 97 car to execute the bump n' run to reclaim the lead. Busch ran away down the backstretch, but Craven's car was clearly faster as they ran through turns three and four, and went bumper-to-bumper at the white flag. This time, Craven made no attempt to pass Busch through turns one and two. Busch entered turn three 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 four. 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 each other as they sped towards the checkered flag, with Craven narrowly defeating Busch by a record margin of victory of 0.002 seconds which has been tied only once in the 2011 Aaron's 499.

Dave Blaney had a spectacular performance in a small single car team Jasper Motorsports finishing third—his career-best finish in a NASCAR race, while leading one lap during the race.

The legendary finish as called on Fox:[5]

"It's going to be a drag race!" - Larry McReynolds[5]
"Wow!" - Mike Joy
"They touch, they touch!" - Larry McReynolds
"Craven got him! - Darrell, Larry and Mike at once
"Alright, what a finish!" - Darrell Waltrip
"Have you ever?" - Mike Joy[5]
"No, I've never!" - Darrell Waltrip[5]
"That's one happy group." -Larry McReynolds (referring to Craven's team)
"Man, I'm telling you, that's the goodest race I've ever seen at Darlington." - Darrell Waltrip

Race resultsEdit

Pos No. Driver Manufacture Team
1 32 Ricky Craven Pontiac PPI Motorsports
2 97 Kurt Busch Ford Roush Racing
3 77 Dave Blaney Ford Jasper Motorsports
4 6 Mark Martin Ford Roush Racing
5 15 Michael Waltrip Chevrolet Dale Earnhardt Inc.
6 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Dale Earnhardt Inc.
7 38 Elliott Sadler Ford Robert Yates Racing
8 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Roush Racing
9 9 Bill Elliott Dodge Evernham Motorsports
10 20 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Joe Gibbs Racing
11 4 Mike Skinner Pontiac Morgan–McClure Motorsports
12 16 Greg Biffle Ford Roush Racing
13 25 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports
14 12 Ryan Newman Dodge Penske Racing
15 21 Ricky Rudd Ford Wood Brothers Racing
16 2 Rusty Wallace Dodge Penke Racing
17 49 Ken Schrader Dodge BAM Racing
18 88 Dale Jarrett Ford Robert Yates Racing
19 30 Jeff Green Chevrolet Richard Childress Racing
20 1 Steve Park Chevrolet Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
21 7 Jimmy Spencer Dodge Jim Smith Racing
22 42 Jamie McMurray Dodge Chip Ganassi Racing
23 23 Kenny Wallace Dodge Bill Davis Racing
24 5 Terry Labonte Chevrolet Hendricks Motorsports
25 10 Johnny Benson Jr. Pontiac MBV Motorsports
26 45 Kyle Petty Dodge Petty Enterprises
27 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Hendricks Motorsports
28 31 Robby Gordon Chevrolet Richard Childress Racing
29 22 Ward Burton Dodge Bill Davis Racing
30 19 Jeremy Mayfield Dodge Evernham Motorsports
31 57 Brett Bodine Ford Team CLR
32 14 Larry Foyt Dodge A. J. Foyt Racing
33 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports
34 41 Casey Mears Dodge Chip Ganassi Racing
35 01 Jerry Nadeau Pontiac MB2 Motorsports
36 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Richard Childress Racing
37 18 Bobby Labonte Chevrolet Joe Gibbs Racing
38 43 John Andretti Dodge Petty Enterprises
39 40 Sterling Marlin Dodge Chip Ganassi Racing
40 0 Jack Sprague Pontiac Haas CNC Racing
41 74 Tony Raines Chevrolet BACE Motorsports
42 99 Jeff Burton Ford Roush Racing
43 54 Todd Bodine Ford BelCar Racing

Standings after the raceEdit

Matt Kenseth (seen in 2009) led the points standings after the race
Pos Driver Points
1 Matt Kenseth 760
2 Tony Stewart 703
3 Michael Waltrip 698
4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 634
5 Kurt Busch 617
6 Ricky Craven 617
7 Dave Blaney 603
8 Jimmie Johnson 601
9 Joe Nemechek 601
10 Johnny Benson Jr. 575


  1. ^ a b Weather information for the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at The Old Farmers' Almanac
  2. ^ a b c d "2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 - Racing".
  3. ^ 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Voted Best NASCAR Race of the Decade at Darlington Raceway
  4. ^ 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 Archived 2009-11-12 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c d Waltrip, Darrell (May 31, 2011). "Have you ever? No, I've never!". Fox Sports. Retrieved March 17, 2019.

External linksEdit

Preceded by
2003 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500
NASCAR Winston Cup Series season
Succeeded by
2003 Food City 500