This Week in Ford Racing April 27, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Fresh off the 29th pole of his career and the first for Wood Brothers Racing in 20 years, Ford driver Ricky Rudd is in Sonoma this week testing for June's road course race...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 27, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Fresh off the 29th pole of his career and the first for Wood Brothers Racing in 20 years, Ford driver Ricky Rudd is in Sonoma this week testing for June's road course race at Infineon Raceway. From there, Rudd will travel to Fontana for this weekend's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 - Motorcraft Taurus
WERE THE EXPECTATIONS PLACED ON YOU AND THIS TEAM TOO HIGH WHEN YOU SIGNED? "I really didn't think so at the time. I think if you asked Eddie and asked me at the time I was confident. I sort of looked at where the team was and I saw a lot of accidents happening. I felt if you just took what was going on here and stopped the bleeding from all the accidents they were having, that you'd be in the top 10. That's what I was basing things on, but after getting over here I've got a new respect for Elliott. At that time I thought he was inexperienced and that's why he was in a lot of wrecks. He could go fast at times, but I thought that maybe his inexperience was causing him to get in over his head a little bit and he was causing wrecks. That's something a lot of drivers go through when they're starting their career. Anyway, I figured I would just come over here and pick up the pieces and we would go on and it didn't work that way. This sport is changing so quickly. The stuff that you ran last year is obsolete this year, so I didn't really expect to be this far behind on the learning curve. I've seen some progress made in the last two or three weeks and now we finally got some results with the pole at Talladega. That's not an easy thing to accomplish, but I look back to even Martinsville and we had a pretty solid run going. Bristol would have been a good run, but then we ended up blowing a tire. I'm starting to see a little bit of daylight, but I didn't expect to be this far off. I figured bad would have been 15th in the points and we were 23rd last year."
AFTER YOUR POLE RUN YOU TALKED ABOUT THE GUYS ON THE CREW NEEDING A SHOT IN THE ARM. HOW BADLY DID YOU NEED A SHOT IN THE ARM? "Well, it's good for everybody. It's nice to have your confidence lifted. I guess I've been through highs and lows in this sport, but I have never been in a low this long, so you're looking for something good to happen. The things I hang onto is something like Martinsville, where we were able to jump out in front of the leaders and started opening up a lead on the field late in the race when everybody is going hard. We were able to get a lap back that way, but that's probably the most positive thing I've had happen as far as a confidence booster. Our lap times were quick and we were actually getting away from the leader a little bit while they were racing, so little things like that help support your confidence. I'm in this sport and I'm a competitor. I'm here to compete and do good. You're gonna have a certain amount of highs and lows, it's just that the lows have been more than I ever expected."
CALIFORNIA IS A DIFFERENT ANIMAL THAN TALLADEGA. CAN YOU CARRY THIS POSTIVE FEELING OVER TO THAT KIND OF TRACK? "It's really a different program. You've got the superspeedway races and restrictor plates are one set of race tracks and then you've got your bigger intermediate tracks and then your short tracks, so I break it up into three different race tracks. Tracks like California have not been our strong suit and haven't been since I've been with the team, but I will say that they've been making a lot of changes in the aero in the cars and they're still searching, so we'll see. We're gonna go out there and it's gonna be one of those deals where when we unload, we won't really know what we have. Then again, we don't really have anything to lose either because by changing things it's kind of radically different from the last time we were at one of these race tracks."
THERE ARE MORE RACES BEING SCHEDULED OUT WEST. HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT TREND? "I like west coast racing. The fans support us really good. We've got a lot of fans out there, but it kind of goes back to when I was a kid racing go-karts. We ran all the kart races east of the Mississippi and we never went west. I remember as a kart racer we won national championships that were held in Indianapolis, which was when east and west coast guys would meet. I always thought when I was a kid growing up that California was sort of the hot bed of Indy car racing and open wheel stuff. That's where it looked like I was headed, so just to have the opportunity to go out and even run a CART race out there would have been fun. They used to run at a track called Willow Springs. I guess it's still around today, but I would used to get the CART magazines when I was 10,12 years old, and I'd look at Willow Springs Raceway and look forward to the opportunity of going out there to race someday. Since we've started going out there, I've enjoyed it. I like that part of the country because we don't get to go out there very often and the scenery is different than what we see on the east coast."
THE SPEEDWAY LOOKS A LOT LIKE MICHIGAN. HOW DOES IT COMPARE? "It's a good track to race on. It's not like a Michigan. I know originally it was supposed to be identical to Michigan, but it's not like Michigan. The corners don't sweep as much as Michigan does - they're not as open as Michigan. You have to handle a little bit better at California than you do at Michigan. It's a good track for me. I've run good out there and have finished third out there at least once and even though I haven't won it's a track I enjoy racing on. What I like about it is the groove moves around a little bit. You've got low and you've got high, especially in turns one and two, so that opens the racing up a little bit. If you've got a fast car and, for some reason you have a pit stop or something goes wrong, you can still come through the pack if your car is good enough to do it. It's not a single-file race track. Some of the tracks that size are single-file race tracks, but California is not."
The pole that Ricky Rudd won at Talladega last weekend occurred just nine races into the first season after the team moved its race shop from Stuart, Va., to Mooresville, N.C. Co-owner Eddie Wood credits Ben Leslie, who is in his first full season as crew chief, as one of the keys to the team's transition. Wood and Leslie both talked about the move, and Leslie also spoke about the importance to the team of winning the pole.
EDDIE WOOD , co-owner - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
"We basically started over on December 22nd and drew a line in the sand by moving and reorganizing completely. It's just like a brand-new race team and we've struggled quite a bit. This is the first real accomplishment that we've had since we moved and made the commitment to go for all of it. To me, that's what's good about it.
"Ben Leslie came on board and worked really hard. This is a completely new race team and he's really done a good job with what we've done. I credit the whole deal to him. He came in and took over and did what he thought was right and it's working out now."
ON BEN LESLIE'S CONTRIBUTIONS. "Ben was the key to the whole move. I can sit here and say, with a lot of confidence, that we probably never would have made Daytona had he not been there because he is very, very organized. He had a plan -- this first, then this, and this and this and this. He even went to the extent on the Daytona cars that there was a group of people working just on Daytona cars. They worked at the Stuart shop until we got things in the Mooresville shop to work with. That group continued to work on the Daytona cars with things going on around them.
"This year, in comparison to last year we probably haven't built as many, but we moved. That being said, with the amount of cars that we have now, the guys at the shop have really done a good job. They have worked every day almost since December. Ben has just really helped. He is so organized in the planning of when a car has to got to go to the plate, when it's got to be ready to go to the body hanger, and this, this and this. And the stuff is always ready. It is always on time.
"We have to be ready to go to Sonoma to test the night after we get home from Talladega. And that plan was made probably in January. And, we didn't even have road race cars at that point. But, they were in the sequence and they left Friday to go out there. To build a road race car is harder than building other cars, but anything you've got really fits them. That is a whole other animal. They got all that done. And when I left the shop there was a whole new downforce car sitting there ready to be put together. He has just taken the whole thing and run with it."
BEN LESLIE , crew chief - No. 21 - Motorcraft Taurus
ON WINNING THE POLE AT TALLADEGA. "To me it meant more to the guys and the Wood Brothers than it did to me personally. That is because everybody put so much work into the move and building all new cars and revamping the whole deal, and we haven't really gotten a whole lot to show for it up to this point. We had a really good qualifying effort, an okay race. It was a typical restrictor-plate race. When it ends if you are lucky enough to be in the right place then you will finish good. If you're not, you're not then you don't finish good. It doesn't really reflect on how you ran, though. We were okay, but it was a typical restrictor-plate race. If somebody wanted to go with you and help you then you went to the front, but if not, then you finish 25th.
"It is hard to say what we've done. For me everything is different, but it's not at the same time. Stuff is the a lot the same that we did last year and the year before last, and yet everything is just a little bit different because we are in a shop by ourselves and we don't have a direct relationship with one or two other teams. We are not sharing space. Both sides have advantages and disadvantages.
"I'm looking forward to the Sonoma test and the California race even though we haven't done very good on the big tracks. We've got a car that looks really good in the wind tunnel. And Ricky is a really good road racer. We rebuilt one road race care from scratch and then we built a brand new one from scratch and we're hoping that will compliment Ricky's road racing abilities and we'll get a really good test in."