NASCAR Top 10: Rudd continues to be NASCAR's 'Iron Man'; Top-10 look at those NASCAR Winston Cup drivers who could mount challenge for honor. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 9, 2003) -- Ricky Rudd established himself as NASCAR's "Iron Man" during the...
NASCAR Top 10: Rudd continues to be NASCAR's 'Iron Man'; Top-10 look at those NASCAR Winston Cup drivers who could mount challenge for honor.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 9, 2003) -- Ricky Rudd established himself as NASCAR's "Iron Man" during the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup season and the soon-to-be 47-year-old Virginia native continues to add to his impressive durability streak. Rudd, who passed the mark established by Terry Labonte at Charlotte in May of last season with his 656th consecutive start, has pushed the streak to 706 consecutive starts entering this weekend's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Rudd's streak began Jan. 11, 1981 at the now extinct Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway, which at the time was the season-opening event for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Driving his first season for DiGard Racing and making his 88th career start, Rudd qualified third and went on to finish 19th. Few could have imagined that Rudd, who had not completed one full season in his previous six years in the series, would never miss a start over the next two decades.
It is imminent that some day Rudd's consecutive starts will come to an end -- like those who held the record before him -- and this month's NASCAR Top 10 takes a look at the nine other longest active consecutive start streaks in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and who may have an opportunity to challenge for the "Iron Man" honor in the future.
Let's take a look at Rudd's possible challengers:
* No. 2 -- Rusty Wallace (615 Consecutive Starts): Should Rudd stumble anytime soon, the 47-year-old Wallace would still need three more seasons to mount a challenge. He is currently 91 consecutive starts shy of Rudd, but is in solid position to capture the second-longest streak in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history. Wallace is 34 starts away from passing third-ranked Dale Earnhardt and just 42 from surpassing Labonte for the No. 2 all-time ranking, a mark he could reach by next season. His streak began Feb. 19, 1984 at the Daytona 500, where he finished 27th.
* No. 3 Mark Martin (499 Consecutive Starts): Martin can reach an "Iron Man" milestone this weekend at New Hampshire should he make the scheduled start. It would be Martin's 500th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup start, making him just the seventh driver in history to reach that milestone. With this weekend's start, he will close to 13 starts of tying Richard Petty for sixth on the all-time list for consecutive starts. Martin's streak began Jan. 14, 1988 at the Daytona 500 where he finished 41st. Martin, 44, is as tough and durable as they come, but age is a major factor in his chase of the record.
* No. 4 Jeff Gordon (355 Consecutive Starts): Gordon may have the most legitimate shot at Rudd considering he is the youngest driver among the NASCAR Top 10 for consecutive starts among active drivers. At 32, Gordon is the youngest by less than three months over No. 10 Tony Stewart, but already ranks fourth with 355 consecutive starts. His streak began with the first race of his NASCAR Winston Cup career, making him and Stewart the only drivers in the NASCAR Top 10 to start their streak at the beginning of their careers. Gordon's streak began at Atlanta on Nov. 15, 1992 where he finished 21st in his debut. Although age is on his side, consider that he is just barely halfway to Rudd's current streak and would need another 10 seasons to reach just that mark.
* No. 5 Bobby Labonte (354 Consecutive Starts): Labonte, at 354 consecutive starts, trails No. 4 Gordon by just one start, but may be saddled by the fact that he is seven years older (39) than him as he pursues the record. Labonte had his streak begin in the third start of his career at the 1993 Daytona 500. He finished 20th in the season-opening race that was held Feb. 14 of that year. An interesting side note is that the Labonte brothers have combined to post more than 1,000 consecutive starts, the most in history for a family combination.
* No. 6 Dale Jarrett (297 Consecutive Starts): The gap in streak lengths widens considerably between the top five and the second five that is paced by Jarrett. He ranks No. 6 with 297 consecutive starts, but trails No. 5 Labonte by 57. However, the 46-year-old Jarrett can soon become the 15th driver in history to reach 300 consecutive starts with a start Sept. 28 at Talladega Superspeedway, barring any missteps in between. He holds the distinction among this NASCAR Top 10 list as the only one to begin his consecutive starts streak with a victory. His streak began Oct. 9, 1994 with a triumph in the Coca-Cola 600, the 225th start of his career overall.
* No. 7 Jeff (258 Consecutive Starts) and No. 8 Ward Burton (202 Consecutive Starts): The brother combination of Jeff and Ward Burton hold down the No. 7 and 8 rankings, respectively. Jeff, 36, heads into New Hampshire with 258 consecutive starts, a run that began March 24, 1996 at Darlington. He finished 10th in that race, joining Jarrett as the only drivers in this NASCAR Top 10 to register a top-10 performance in the race that kicked off their streaks. He also has the opportunity to join Jarrett next season as the next driver -- and 16th overall -- to reach the 300 consecutive starts milestone. Ward, 31, just recently reached a milestone himself, hitting 200 consecutive starts Aug. 23 at Bristol. Entering New Hampshire, he has posted 202 consecutive starts, the first coming at Rockingham on Oct. 27, 1997 where he finished 26th.
* No. 9 Michael Waltrip (168 Consecutive Starts): What makes Waltrip's streak of 168 consecutive starts impressive is that it is his second major streak. His first consecutive starts streak was 387 races and it ranks 10th in all-time NASCAR Winston Cup history. The streak ended when he failed to qualify for the Phoenix race on Oct. 25, 1998. Waltrip, 40, had his current streak begin in the next race -- Nov. 1 at Rockingham where he finished 22nd. Had he not failed to qualify and made the field at Phoenix, his streak would have been at 556 and stand third only to Wallace and Rudd among active drivers.
* No. 10 Tony Stewart (166 Consecutive Starts): Stewart, the second youngest of the group at 32, closes out the NASCAR Top 10 for consecutive starts with 166 entering this weekend. His first start came Feb. 14, 1999 at the season-opening Daytona 500 and he holds three distinctions among the group. He joins Gordon as the only drivers in the NASCAR Top 10 to begin their consecutive starts streak in their first career start. He also owns the best starting position -- second -- in the race that began the streak. Stewart went on to finish 28th in his debut. However, he, along with No. 2 Wallace, No. 4 Gordon, No. 5 Labonte and No. 6 Jarrett, went on to capture a NASCAR Winston Cup championship during their respective consecutive start streaks.