NASCAR Nextel Wake Up Call with Ricky Rudd, No. 20 Home Depot Monte Carlo SS Dover, DE: Ricky Rudd spoke to the media at Dover International Speedway regarding his practicing; qualifying and stand by to relieve defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup...
NASCAR Nextel Wake Up Call with Ricky Rudd, No. 20 Home Depot Monte Carlo SS
Dover, DE: Ricky Rudd spoke to the media at Dover International Speedway regarding his practicing; qualifying and stand by to relieve defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Home Depot Monte Carlo SS. Stewart sustained an injury to his scapula in two accidents at Charlotte, first in the NASCAR Busch Series race then again in the Coca Cola 600.
Q: How did the opportunity to relieve Tony in the No. 20 Monte Carlo SS come about?
"Early this week I got a call from Greg Zipadelli and J.D. Gibbs, to see if couldn't help this out this weekend. Tony, as every one knows, got banged up pretty good at Charlotte two nights in a row. We aren't sure to the extent of what the roles are going to be just yet. They asked if I would come out and sort of help them out this weekend. It was a real, real tough decision. I have a little mini farm outside Huntersville, NC and had to decide if I went out and cut grass for six hours this weekend or do I go to Dover and drive a race car. (chuckles) It wasn't a tough decision to make at all about what I wanted to do.
Q. Talk about your emotions about getting back in a car.
"As you know, I have been out it since the end of last year. I am really taking some time off to stop and figure if I can handle this retirement situation. I hated to use the word retirement and really never have. I wanted to see if I could settle into a routine after doing this for 30 or 31 years. I have really enjoyed my time of. I have been out playing with my son just about every day. I feel like I neglected him over the last several years because just the nature of the sport. He and I have spent a lot of time together, rode a lot of dirt bikes and go-karts. We have stayed really active. I was telling some one the other day that I race more now than I used to, but I just don't get paid to do it. We have been out chasing each other around, staying in pretty good shape. I have been staying close to home, not traveling a lot and that has been pretty nice. I have been watching from the outside and keeping my eye on what is going on. There are a lot of things about the sport that I miss and a lot of things I don't miss.
"When I climbed in the car and was sitting there and started thinking, 'Man, how am I going to handle this? We have a vacation we have been planning for about nine months. So how can I do everything and keep everyone happy', but I think we have got it handled."
Q. Are you glad to get back in a car at Dover, a track you have had so much success at, if and when you get in the car.
"I think the plan is now for me to practice and qualify the car and Tony will start the race. I think we know that much right now. Dover has always been one of favorite tracks. I always had pretty good luck here. There are a lot of tracks where we struggled over the years, but Dover is one of those places that just sort of came naturally to me from the first time I ran here, it is just a track that just suits my driving style. We have had good luck here in the past and had some good runs and a couple of wins along the way. I am certainly sorry for Tony's situation and wouldn't wish injury on anyone, but having the phone call come when it did, it probably couldn't have happened at a better track for me to come out and enjoy driving the Home Depot Chevrolet. It is great equipment and a great race team.""
Q. Have you been contacted and are you considering an opportunities with the new manufacturer in Cup next season?
"I feel like I am opening up a can of worms when someone asks me about the Toyota deal. I really don't have a lot to say. It seems like those guys are building a strong operation. Michael Waltrip is one of the first Toyota teams and there are other Toyota teams out there. They are trying to put the best effort together they can as quickly as they can. I have been approached by different race teams and I basically said, don't let me hold your plans up. I am forcing myself to take one year off to think about what I am going to do next. It wouldn't be fair to any race team for me to hurry up and make a decision about committing to a full-time schedule. At this point, I am not committed to anything next year and I really am working hard at taking a year off. This maybe changes things a little bit this weekend, but right now if you ask me if I am going to come back and run a 100% schedule, or will I do it next year, right now I don't think so. I am enjoying my time off right now. It seems like the more time I have off, the more I am enjoying it. If I can help out these guys at Joe Gibbs Racing and get them out of a bind, and keep them up in the points race, I will have a good weekend and hopefully those guys will to. As far as the Toyota situation, they are working hard to put a good effort finding drivers and teams and putting together everything to make that in place.
"I have been contacted by some non-Toyota teams also and more or less let them know just what I told you guys. I am not ready to commit to anything. For next season, race teams need to almost have all their people in place now; they need to know who their driver is now. They need to get little things in place for next year. I think that it seems like I am wishy washy, but I am not. I said I was going to take a year off and I am going to stick to that. I don't want to mislead anybody and wait for me to say, yes, I am coming with you guys. But yes, the phone has been ringing; it isn't a bad thing by any means. I just don't thing the timing is going to work out for the race teams to be able to wait until say a September or October time for me to figure out what I am going to do next. They will have to have a commitment and already be out testing by that time."
Q. On preparations you had to make this week to get back in a car with changes that have occurred in the few months out of the sport.
"I have been on dirt bikes and shifter karts pretty regularly and that is a pretty good tune up. A lot of F-1 and Indy Car drivers use those as a workout program, so I feel I have kept pretty sharp. It has kept the weight off me anyway. Chasing my son around two or three days a week on dirt bikes has helped. So even though I haven't been in a Cup car, I don't think it will take me too long to get adjusted.
"I have talked to the guys about what they are doing now versus what they were doing last year and I don't think there is going to be a great difference in the cars now versus last year. I also did a tune up in a sports car at Mid-Ohio. They asked me to drive one of the Daytona Prototypes so I took advantage of the opportunity and spent all day up there in a race car. Those things are pretty fast. They don't give you much time to get caught up and get in tune because they will bite you pretty quick. I have been doing things like that even though I haven't been in a Cup car."
Q. Have you talked to Tony about slipping in his car and after taking a year off, do you think you are able to get right in and do it?
"To answer your question, I do know I am taking a year off and am enjoying it so far. But as far as conversations with Tony and the crew and making the driver change, we have been talking about what we can do to make the change as quickly as possible with injuring Tony any worse than he is and getting me in the car. We have been looking at the equipment they have, it just takes so long to undue because driver changes are definitely not the norm in Cup racing, it is a lot more complex than it was say five or six years ago. To make a change now, there are the HANS Device, the seats are custom made and molded to each driver's personal taste and there isn't as much move around room in these cars as there used to be. Making a quick driver's change is going to be a difficult situation so there has been more dealing with that than lots of just chit chat. I am sure with Tony here this weekend; there will be a lot of talk about the car and things. But right now, it has been mainly focused on the equipment so we can make a fairly quick driver change."
Q. Did you ever start a race with a broken bone or other injury during your career and how hard is it for a driver to climb out of the seat?
"The driver himself, knows better than anybody if he is capable of driving the car. In Tony's case, he probably doesn't know right now how far he is going to drive the car. It is his call and he is going to know. He knows what are his injuries; he has been educated well on what is going on there. He knows the potential consequences if he pushes over the limit. Once you get in that race car, the adrenaline kicks in and you can drive with a lot of pain and a lot of injuries and actually hamper than injury from healing. Tony is smart enough. He is surrounded by great people who are going to help him be smart about this decision. They have a good chance to win another championship; they are fourth in the points. So you have to set there and be a whole team player and figure out whether you take a chance and keep driving and then get out and find out it is now going to take six months to heal.
"That is Tony's car, that is how it be. It is his decision. But I think he will be pretty smart about it. Like I said, if you ask me today how long Tony is going to drive that car, I don't think Tony himself can answer that question. If he drives the whole race and it is not hurting him, that is great.
"I am just up here to help to come away from here without a big fall in the points. But Tony has got. To answer that question himself. I think I can count on one hand situations where I had something broken or torn ligaments. But always before the race I had a backup driver lined up. I think at Charlotte back in the late '80s I had a torn ligament in my left leg and I had a full leg brace on, but we were prepared at the time, Larry McReynolds was my crew chief, and had Mike Alexander lined up to go. I probably could have driven further than I did, but I just drove to the first caution and got out. But it was a time when tire problems were a big factor for everyone, so the biggest thing was I couldn't take a chance on re-injuring that same leg again. I had just injured it the previous weekend in the Winston.
"But Tony will make that call, there is still a long way to go in the season. I think their biggest goal right now is to get out of here with the best finish we can and keep him healthy."
Q. On if he'll race to finish or for the win:
"I think the situation is going to dictate it. I'll find out today. The question was asked if I'm rusty and that I haven't been in the car in a little while. We're going out this morning on full race setup. Which I know a lot of the other guys probably won't since you have a separate qualifying session for an impound race. I'm going out there purposely on race setup and just try to get me comfortable in race setup. Then we'll sneak in there with qualifying setup a little later. I'm a racer and I didn't come here to run second or third or fourth or just to ride around. But I've also got to be smart. My number one focus is just don't do anything stupid; just get the best finish we can for these guys this weekend. But at the same time, if we can get it up in contention late in the race, then we'll race for the win if the situation dictates that we've got a chance at doing that. Again, it's another one of those deals that you play it by ear. My number one goal is to get the best finish we can without risking not finishing the race."
Q. On getting in the defending champion's car and if he'll get ready to get back in the car next year?
"I think a lot of that is if we can go out there and adjust to the way the race car runs. I've never driven the car. It's been a long time. If I had good race cars under me at Yates and we were in contention for championships, and wins. At Wood Brothers we were hit or miss. We would run really good at one event and it might be 15 events later before we would run good again. It wasn't because of bad equipment; it's just lack of track time, lack of trust and lack of teammates. There were a lot of issues there that would be problem for anybody. They built some really good race cars.
"Joe Gibbs Racing is at the top of their game. Those cars have the latest, greatest techniques on all their cars. I'm really excited about getting the chance to drive a car for a championship caliber team. They won the championship. They have great equipment. It's an opportunity of a lifetime for me to get a chance to get into that equipment. We'll see how it everything turns out. There are no excuses. It's the championship car. These guys have been competitive every week this year. If I can adapt to that, that might have some bearing on what I do next year."
Q. On it not being the end of the day if you don't stay on the lap with the free pass rule:
"You've got a good point there. You're exactly right. The free pass, especially early in the race if you get up a lap here at Dover it's not the end of the world. It's not like being down a lap at Bristol. It's not a race killing situation. I might take you hard laps to get out of that situation but just because you are down a lap the day is not over for you. We'll need to get Tony out of the car. There's been a lot of discussion on how to do that without making his injury any worse. You might just take two laps, take your time, loose your lap and get the driver changed. Now you've got a good shot getting it back for the lucky dog."
Q. On fitting in the car and the setup of the car:
"I'll try to answer about the setup. I think the setup is determined by engineers and crew chiefs. I'm not a big believe in getting the car comfortable for a driver. You need to find the driver that you can plug into the car and adapt to that. As far as driver suits and stuff, I was really surprised when I got in the car and the seat fit pretty good. Tony must really like a real snug seat because I got in it and it's not like we had to add any extra padding to the seat. Seat belts were pretty much the same. The big difference was the pad of the shoulder harness but you got to loosen them up to get underneath and get yours HANS hooked up. It's kind of scary because it's almost like this seat was my seat. Some guys like a snug seat. Some guys like a loose seat. That could have been a major issue that we could run into and having to adjust from one guy to the next." Q. Are you a driver that relies a lot of the spotter? Do you have any concerns about working with a spotter you are not familiar with it? Do you have any concerns regarding crew chief communication during the race?
"I went a lot of years when spotters were unheard of. I don't think they came around to mid-80s or so. I've got a lot of races under my belt. I think we can probably adapt. That's not really an issue. Probably the communication with the crew chief is probably a bigger issue. We'll just kind of pick it up and run with it and see how it goes."