Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, qualified on the pole for tomorrow's Pocono 500. He goes into the race fourth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, trailing leader Jeff Gordon by 130 points. RICKY RUDD --28--...
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, qualified on the pole for tomorrow's Pocono 500. He goes into the race fourth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, trailing leader Jeff Gordon by 130 points.
RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus --
HOW FRUSTRATING HAS IT BEEN SINCE SIGNING WITH ROBERT YATES IN THAT YOU HAVEN'T WON YET AND PEOPLE EXPECTED YOU TO RIGHT OFF THE BAT?
"It really wasn't frustrating. I've been around this sport twentysome years. Maybe the fans have a preconceived idea that it's all magic in the 28. There's nothing magic within any of these teams. It's all about hard work, team chemistry and financial support. When I was chosen by Robert to have the opportunity to come over and drive, it made it look like Kenny Irwin really wasn't getting the job done. Kenny Irwin was a fine race car driver, but inexperienced. He didn't have all the tools in the toolbox to work with when he got over here. When I came on board, we constantly added more people. We added 11 or 12 people to the system when I came on board, so it was a re-build process. But, to answer your question, certainly I would have liked to have been able to jump out there and win races right away. I also knew that the 88 team was in great shape and the 28 team needed a lot of help, so I think we're actually on schedule. We had some freak things happen last year that cost us probably three or four wins, but I think the team is on schedule. I think we've got a very, very good chance to win the championship this year. Winning races will come our way. I think the team is running too good not to win races, but as far as it being magical over here -- yes, over history it's been a very good team, but there was a three or four-year period before I came on board that the team actually sort of nosed down. It wasn't because the driver wasn't getting it done, it was just that the team needed some rebuilding."
WHAT WILL BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUALIFYING AND RACE SETUP FOR TOMORROW?
"It'll probably be a different engine, four shocks and four springs -- a major change. We'll go back through our notebook. We were a top three car, we finished third in this race a year ago. In the second race we were actually a little better than that. We ended up having a cut tire and wrecked late in the race, so we've got that notebook to pull from. Does the pole automatically guarantee that you're gonna have a great race and the answer to that is no. I'm gonna reflect back on how we raced here last time, which was pretty good. Certainly, I think we're gonna race better than we did last year."
WHAT ABOUT THE STRATEGY OF 500 MILES HERE?
"Here, you've got to be careful not to use your equipment up the first part of the race. This race track is very hard on engines. The driver can do things like make that shift or don't shift and ring the motor out every lap. Short-shift and take care of the motor so you don't turn a lot of RPM. Take care of your equipment and be in the hunt when it comes time for the final stop of the day. Don't be sitting in 10th or 15th, you want to be sitting in fourth or fifth come that last 100 miles."
SO WHY DO DRIVERS WANT TO TAKE THE LEAD EARLY IN THE RACE?
"Because they get caught up in the heat of the moment. I know like last week at Michigan, we took the lead on the last lap going into turn one. The adrenaline is flowing. You're out there to race. Even someone who has been around like me, I've got to actually calm myself down, especially when you've got a good car. You want to show it and you want to have fun with it, but you've got to look at the big picture. You're here to race and you don't want to do anything that's gonna jeopardize your equipment -- that at the end of the race you're sitting there running on seven cylinders because you slung the valves out of it. You don't want to do anything foolish like that, but for a brief moment I guess you lose your head a little bit and you ring the motor out and flex your muscle a little bit if you've got the car to do it."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BREAK THROUGH HERE WITH A POLE AND POSSIBLY WIN FOR THE FIRST TIME TOMORROW?
"This is one of those tracks where we thought we won it one time. We had to look at the photos to figure out who won the race. We had a photo finish with Tim Richmond (in the fall of 1986), but it's been one of those track when you look back over your career you say, 'Gosh, Pocono has been a great race track, but we haven't won here.' It's kind of really ironic because I would have thought Pocono would have been one of our 20 wins because we have run so solidly over the years. This is the first time I've won a pole here, so I'm pretty excited. I think we've got a great weekend shaping up here."
WHAT ABOUT THE BLOCKING THAT TAKES PLACE ON THE FRONTSTRETCH HERE?
"It'll get interesting, it always does. It's kind of like Michigan last week, especially when we had that mad scramble at the end of the race. People try to block and stop your momentum, but the track is so wide that you really can't do a very good job at it. They run you down to the inside -- the dirt and dust flies -- it's fun to race here."
ARE YOU ON A MISSION THIS WEEK?
"The biggest thing is that the team has been steadily making progress toward putting us in victory lane. Driving harder is not gonna get us there. You've got to use your head. You can't take a 10th-place car on a given day and turn it into a winning car. You can't do it. The biggest thing I've got to do is be patient and just wait until things come along and develop and that's sort of what's happening now. The cars are getting better. I'm not driving any better or differently, but we're challenging for the wins now. We did last week and I think you'll see it this week, but it's not that I'm a better driver. I've been patient and the equipment has gotten better. In the meantime, we've been logging points." YOU'VE REALLY DONE WELL HERE SO FAR. "There are a lot of hours that went into this car back at the shop -- a lot of sleepless nights. I know the motor program, they never stop or slow up. They were pretty excited about the motor we were bringing here, but I think there's a lot of enthusiasm. I don't know the percentage factor, but I think very few of these guys on our team have ever been to victory lane before. Even though the 28 team has been to victory lane many, many times, this group of guys or maybe a very small handful have been to victory lane before. The enthusiasm is there and they just want to win. The adrenaline in the team is probably popping harder than I've ever seen it."
IF YOU COME DOWN TO THE LAST COUPLE OF LAPS AND SEE GORDON BEHIND YOU WITH THAT NOSE, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT HIM TO DO?
"That's the advantage of what they've got. It doesn't matter if they're leading or following because the balance doesn't really shift around on those cars very much. I think with this race you just want to be out in front. The situation will dictate. Like last week at Michigan, I probably beat myself up a little bit for passing maybe one lap too early, but what happened was that Gordon made a mistake. He got his car pushing coming off the corner and it was one of those deals where I either back out of it and let him gather it up, or I just break away and use that momentum. I hopefully thought I could clear him and get back in front of him, but he had too much motor for me to do that. I did not want to be pinned down on the inside going into turn one. He did exactly what he needed to do. What would I do this week, I don't know, it's a different situation. That win very easily could have gone for us as easily as it did for him last week. I'm sure he'll be in contention, but you can't rule out the Penske cars either. They're always stout here, but I don't know that I'll do anything different. You've got to race the situation."
DOES THAT NOSE GIVE GORDON AN EDGE GOING INTO TURN ONE OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
"No, it'll show up in race trim more than it does qualifying trim because in qualifying trim everybody's got taped off grills and everybody's got pretty good front downforce. When you start untaping these cars with the duct work system and stuff in it -- anytime you can have a nose that's really angled like that, it's gonna put more front downforce in it. Your tape is not as critical. You watch these guys, they run as much tape as they possibly can without bending the motor down. You don't have to tape it off and be right there on that edge of having too much tape. It's a little more forgiving."
Brett Bodine, driver of the No. 11 Ralphs Supermarkets Taurus, had his second-best qualifying effort of the season yesterday when he qualified 11th for tomorrow's race. His top effort was a 10th-place run at Rockingham. Bodine, who has been running at the end of 20 straight races -- the longest active streak, spoke about his expectations for the weekend.
BRETT BODINE --11-- Ralphs Supermarkets Taurus --
NUMBER 11 IS STARTING 11TH IN TOMORROW'S RACE.
"Yeah, how about that. That's our second-best qualifying effort this year. This marks the one year anniversary of Mike (Hillman) being with us and we're hoping to parlay that experience into some stronger runs, stronger qualifying and stronger finishes and we think we can. We've come a long way in one year internally with our race team. Now, we need to show up when we arrive at the race track with improvement in our runs. We've got to get some consistency in our race stuff. We've been fast intermittently throughout the season, but we've got to get that consistency on race day. Hopefully, we can have a good strong finish here. This has been one of my favorite race tracks. If you look back historically, I think this is one of my best average finish race tracks throughout my career." WHAT ABOUT 500 MILES HERE? "It's a long day and this place is tough on equipment. You have three straightaways instead of two, which is extra wear and tear on that engine. With long straightaways we turn a lot of RPM and, of course, the shifting puts wear and tear on the transmission that you don't normally have on a regular oval. There are a lot of different factors that go into preparing the race car here at Pocono over a normal oval."
TRACK POSITION IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT IS IT MORE CRITICAL HERE COMPARED TO SOME OTHERS?
"Track position is real important here because this is a very difficult place to pass. For the most part, it's a single lane track through the corners and horsepower is the key. That's how you do your passing down the straightaways. You've got to handle well enough to get yourself in position to get momentum for the straightaway. You can have a car that's off and have an awesome engine and do really well here, but you can't have a car that's handling good with no engine and do well here because you just can't pass. Passing down the straightaways is the key here."
THERE IS A LOT OF ENGINE ATTRITION AT THIS TRACK, BUT YOU'VE GOT YATES POWER. IS THAT A COMFORTING THOUGHT HERE?
"Yeah. Robert and his staff have done a great job for us this year. We've got to have reliability, but you've also got to have horsepower. It's great being with Robert and his people because of the history they have. They know what it takes. There isn't anyone in his organization who deals in guesswork. They've been there, done that. When you get involved with their organization you know your engine department has got a tremendous amount of experience and they know how to make it happen."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR STREAK OF 20 STRAIGHT RACES RUNNING AT THE FINISH. THAT'S THE LONGEST ACTIVE STREAK.
"I didn't realize we had the longest streak, but we pride ourselves on the fact that no matter what happens to us during the day that we're gonna get back out there. Not only are we representing our sponsors and we need to get back out there for them, but this is about exposure and trying to optimize that the best we can. If we have trouble early, you've got to fix the car and go back out. But it's also about pride. I'm surrounded by a group of people that have a lot of pride and they want their car to finish the race. It doesn't matter the expense or how much work it takes in the garage area, we're gonna fix that thing if we can and get back out on the race track. Fortunately, we haven't found ourselves in huge trouble to where we can't do that. That's part of our sport right now. You have to do your best to get your race car back out on the race track, but NASCAR is so stringent now on the minimum speed that you've only got one chance. You've got to make sure you get that thing pretty right in the garage area if it's tore up so you can keep up with the minimum speed."
A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE LOOKING AT YOU TOMORROW AND WONDERING IF YOU CAN STAY UP FRONT. CAN YOU?
"The worst part about what happened last week was that we were expected to contend at Michigan. We had a fast race car in practice, but Mike and I got caught up in the moment. We got greedy and went too far on some changes and that bit us. So we had a talk and said that we can't compliment each other all the time. Sometimes we need to be more critical of each other's ideas and think things through better. Last week I fed off of him and he fed off of me and pretty soon we made a mistake. Our plan is not to get too greedy. I want to sit on a pole. There were a couple of years where we had the best qualifying average of anybody here. I want to sit on some poles again, but I know what setup I have to look for in the race car these days. I have to look at what it's gonna take to get us safely in the race. I know what it's gonna take to sit on the pole, but I know I'm sitting far enough back in the points that if the moon is aligned correctly and I make a mistake, I've got a problem. So, Mike and I talk about that all the time right before qualifying. I will cherish the day that we're high enough in points that we can take some chances and try to grab a pole. I'd like to hang around the top 10 all day tomorrow. In my heart that's what I want to happen and prove that we can do it because this team deserves it."