Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Keep it Genuine/Motorcraft Taurus, has been reunited with crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain for only one week, but he has already noticed a difference. After finishing 16th in yesterday's practice session, Rudd qualified 20th for tomorrow's Pop Secret 500. He spoke about a renewed enthusiasm around the team prior to Saturday's practice.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Keep it Genuine/Motorcraft Taurus
JUDGING FROM YOUR POST-QUALIFYING COMMENTS, YOU FELT THE CAR WAS BETTER THAN 20TH.
"I'm just real encouraged because I overdrove the corner. It should have been two-tenths better than that, which would have probably put us somewhere between fifth and tenth, but I just overdrove the corner. The cars are starting to come around quite a bit. They've got a good, racy feel to them. We were 16th going into qualify, which is the first time all year at a track of this size that we haven't been at the bottom of the speed chart."
PEOPLE TALK ALL THE TIME ABOUT CHEMISTRY, BUT THERE'S REALLY SOMETHING TO IT ISN'T THERE?
"There is a lot to it, but a lot of it also gets back to car construction. Every crew chief has his way of doing things and, again, it's not that one way is terribly wrong or terribly right, but the way Fatback does his car setups suit me better when we get to the track than what we had before. We'll only get better because the cars aren't built from scratch the way he wants to have them built, so by the time he gets one of those cars in the system - which will maybe be Martinsville - then he knows what he's got. Right now he's working on somebody else's car and he doesn't really know what he's got."
YOU SAID YESTERDAY THAT IT WAS A CONFIDENCE BOOST FOR YOU. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FROM A CONFIDENCE STANDPOINT THESE LAST FEW MONTHS.
"The guys have been working. They haven't been sitting there twiddling their thumbs. They've been trying to figure it out, but it seemed the more they tried the worse we got. Bristol was pretty encouraging. We had a good car and ended up getting wrecked, but it drove really well. The main thing I noticed was that in the previous year we ran in the top five and in the second race I think we broke something, but the first Bristol race this year was pretty disastrous. That's all I've got to compare it to, but last week things went a lot smoother and we were poised to have a pretty good run. From a positive standpoint the cars are starting to do what I want them to do. We need to get better and it's coming that direction pretty quick."
HAVE YOU DOUBTED YOURSELF AT ALL THIS PAST YEAR?
"Every team kind of goes through this. I can't remember where we were but I was talking to another driver and they had been doing really well but were coming off a bad race. They were joking and saying that after the race they made sure all of the sharp objects were removed from the area because everybody is so committed to doing well. But this team had like one bad race after having many good races and it was tearing them up. We really haven't had a good race all year and only a select few last year, so I feel with Fatback and Hoyt (Overbagh) - proven guys that I've worked with in the past that have gotten results - will give us a big boost. But if you go long enough, you do start doubting yourself."
DO YOU HAVE A FEELING THAT YOU CAN WIN THE RACE TOMORROW AND IS THAT A FEELING YOU HAVEN'T HAD MUCH OF LATE?
"I feel like we have a real legitimate shot at a top 10. I'll know more after happy hour, but right now I know that what I've got is a lot racier than what I've had in quite a while. That doesn't mean that we still can't miss our setup. It's a difficult race we're coming into because we're gonna do all of our practicing with a real cool temperature. The track is gonna be probably 65 degrees today and tomorrow it will be 130 when we're racing, so we've got to be real careful not to get ourselves dialed out. So generally happy hour practice is much more reflective of what the race is gonna be like, so I'm hoping we don't miss our setup. I guess the bottom line is that I've got confidence knowing that I can see we've kind of turned the corner. How quickly we get to where we can start talking about winning races again, I don't know.
"I don't want to rule out that it could happen this week, but, realistically, I think we need to start getting top 10s and top 5s and then we'll talk about wins. I don't want to put that pressure on anybody, but I definitely think you'll see an immediate turnaround and we'll be a legitimate top 10 contender - especially when we get Fatback's cars in the system."
THERE ARE AT LEAST EIGHT GUYS BATTLING FOR A SPOT IN THE TOP 10 WITH TWO RACES TO GO. AS A GUY DOWN IN THE POINTS WILL YOU BE CONSCIOUS OF THAT AND USE MORE CAUTION AROUND THEM?
"You sort of put on blinders. Everybody knows you've got to race your own team and you're really racing yourself to get the best performance you can. That's the kind of question you usually get at the end of the year if there's a points battle going on for the lead, but everybody out here has a different mission. Ours is to get the performance turned around and get some good runs. A guy in the top 10, right now their deal is they've still got to race but they've also got to be conservative to get locked into that top 10. We're not really concerned with what's going on in that top 10. Certainly we'd like to be there, but there's nothing we can do about that right now other than just get our team up and running good now where we can contend for it next year. But as far as us being aware of this guy or that guy, we don't do that. You race everybody the same. With a team like ours, if the Yates camp comes to us and says, 'Here's the gear ratio and stuff we have available that you can run. A majority of guys are gonna run this ratio. If you put this ratio in, you'll turn more RPM and make more power but the longevity might be questionable.' The guys in that top 10 hunt will probably go with a more conservative package and we'll go with a more aggressive package. That's really where the points situation enters into it, more so than what actually takes place on the track."