OXFORD – Johnny Clark winces at the memory of his first phone conversation with Ricky Craven last year.

“I got off the phone after 20 minutes and remember saying, Oh man, I shouldn’t have said half that stuff.’ I was so star-struck.

“Now, it’s just like talking to my buddy Ricky.”

Craven has teamed up with Clark for this year’s TD Banknorth 250. Clark was leading last year’s race before getting passed with eight laps to go.

Craven had never spoken to Clark before last year, but had heard glowing reports from Maine. When Craven’s boss, Jack Roush, was looking for up-and-coming drivers last summer to compete in the reality television show “Driver X” – which selected a young driver to join Roush’s team – Craven recommended Clark.

Craven sat with Roush when Clark first drove a truck for the series. “Man, he’s not afraid of it, is he?” Craven said he remembers Roush saying.

While Clark was not selected, that time with Roush is what led Craven to ask for the young driver’s help with the 250.

Clark’s team built a new car for Craven’s return. The former Nextel Cup driver, who hadn’t driven a pro-stock in 15 years, told Clark to build it as if he were building it for himself.

The two spent Monday fine-tuning the setup during a testing session at Oxford Plains Speedway.

“I have a lot of confidence in his ability to make these cars go fast,” Craven said.

Craven believes he is watching a younger version of himself in Clark. He’s impressed with Clark’s passion, ability, hunger and humble nature, which should serve him well if he decides to make the jump like Craven did 15 years ago.

“The question is, does he want to just pick up and go?” Craven asked. “That’s an awful big risk. It has absolutely nothing to do with talent. He has the talent. He’s got the ability, and I think he’ll have the opportunity, but he’s got to walk away from an awful lot to do that.”

Clark is in the midst of the longest winning drought of his brief career, but he is still third in the PASS standings. He is excited about how well his car has been handling of late.

Craven hopes he can help boost Clark to Victory Lane.

“I’d like for Johnny to win the Oxford 250,” Craven said.

“If we can turn our season around at Oxford in the 250, that would be pretty special,” Clark said.

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