Michigan II: Ricky Rudd preview

RICKY RUDD SET TO MAKE 775TH CONSECUTIVE START AT MICHIGAN --A TRACK THAT RANKS HIGH ON HIS LIST OF FAVORITES Ricky Rudd's 775th consecutive NEXTEL Cup career start will come this Sunday, August 21st at Michigan International Speedway. It...

RICKY RUDD SET TO MAKE 775TH CONSECUTIVE START AT MICHIGAN --A TRACK THAT RANKS HIGH ON HIS LIST OF FAVORITES

Ricky Rudd's 775th consecutive NEXTEL Cup career start will come this Sunday, August 21st at Michigan International Speedway. It also will mark Rudd's 862nd start in NASCAR's premiere series. The racing veteran and his #21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts crew chief, Michael "Fatback" McSwain, both answer questions from the fans this week.

Where do you rate Michigan on your favorite track list? Why? Ricky Rudd: "It's pretty high up there. I like Michigan, really, because it is a fun race track to drive. It's very wide. It has grip in three different lanes. When you get racing you can race in three different lanes on the race track. If you happen to have some kind of a problem and you've got to come back from it, it's not a follow-the-leader race track like some of them are. It's got multi grooves, and I think that's another reason I like it. Those kind of tracks tend to be the big aero-push type tracks, but Michigan is wide enough and has enough usable lanes that you can keep clean air to your race car. That's the reason I like it."

The last time you raced at Michigan you finished 33rd and started 34th. Do you think that this week you will have more success since you have found out different things about the chassis and aerodynamics? "For some reason we just weren't that good there. It seemed like at the very last minute we had to change some settings in the car and we just weren't that good there. I think Fatback and the guys have gotten a handle on it since that time, and they have learned some things. When we went to Pocono the first time we had some problems and when we went back there we had a good, solid run. And, when we went to Indy we had a good, solid run in testing. I think there are some things that they learned that should apply to Michigan. We're looking for a much better run this week because we are quite a bit ahead of where we were the first time we were there."

Do you think the team has turned a corner? "I think we turned the corner a good long time ago. I'll tell you, our cars have been competitive everywhere we've gone. When I say competitive, I'd say fifth to 12th - somewhere in there. Where we missed it was at New Hampshire. Our short-track program, which had been sort of our strength, had gotten away from us. We weren't competitive at New Hampshire. I know we've got two short-track tests coming up in the real near future to try to figure out what is going on there. But at the bigger, faster tracks I'm pretty comfortable right now. I think we've got something pretty good going on there."

Does each team have a set amount of cars they are allowed to have at a time, or can you just keep making them? "You could have a hundred cars if you wanted and just keep building."

What do you do to stay in shape throughout the off-season? "I don't really do a whole lot in the off season. I gain about 10 pounds because of that. But, when we get going, I'm in race cars an average of three or four times a week with testing and stuff. Unlike in years past, the testing now consists of a lot of miles. When we go to a test we usually run over 500 miles in two days. Even in a single-day test we run over 300 miles, so we are doing a lot more miles at our tests. And that tends to condition you. But I stay busy. I'm always doing a lot outdoors during the winter. I'm moving around. The real test for conditioning is when you get into the hot races. Those test your conditioning. But, to answer the question - nothing in particular, other than I try to watch a little bit what I eat because I'm not as active."

Do you think drivers and crew chiefs should move teams as package deals? Michael McSwain: "I don't think you would see that happen very much. Sometimes they end up back together, but it doesn't happen very often. If one party or the other is interested in leaving there is usually something wrong anyway. So, I don't know if they should leave together, or just leave. Obviously, by some of the moves that have been made over the past few weeks, our sport is changing. I don't know whether it is necessarily good or bad, but it is definitely changing."

Does Ricky's input on the car ever decide which car will be brought to the track, or is that decided strictly by testing alone and what is built at the shop according to a certain track? Michael McSwain: "Most of the time, I base the decision off the previous performance of a particular car at a track. In some scenarios, we will change a car based on the performance at either that track or a similar track prior. But, I would say it is more of a group decision by the engineering staff, myself and Ricky rather than any particular individual."

Is there ever a time when Ricky's input overrides what you and the engineers have come up with on the aero package to use? "I think his input is the sole reason for the development of a particular aero package. The aero package is based not only on performance, but on driver feel which will increase the performance. Nine times out of 10 it is developed solely for driver feel. A lot of it is trial and error. We can get it narrowed down to a small window off knowledge of past history. But, then to fine tune that small window, it is usually done based on testing and race-track performance."

-wbr-

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup