This Week in Ford Racing September 21, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, has four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories at Dover International Speedway, site of this weekend's MBNA America 400. ...
This Week in Ford Racing
September 21, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, has four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories at Dover International Speedway, site of this weekend's MBNA America 400. Rudd was also one of this week's guests on the NNC teleconference.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
WHY HAS DOVER BEEN SO GOOD TO YOU?
"I'm not really sure why that is. It's just one of those tracks that you go to over the years and it seems like you can always pretty much count on a pretty good run when we go to Dover and I really don't have a reason why that is. I enjoy driving the race track. I know back when it used to be 500 miles a lot of guys used to dread that track and I always enjoyed it. I enjoy the track layout. It's not far from where I grew up, a couple hundred miles away from Chesapeake, so I don't really have the answers but I have enjoyed the success there."
IS THERE A MENTAL THING ABOUT DOVER OR ANY OTHER TRACK WHERE YOU'VE HAD SUCCESS?
"I don't really think so. I think it just has to do with the race track and it's a little unusual compared to a lot of the race tracks we run. It's a mile track and you have to get in the corner real good there. You don't use much brake. It's a track that sort of unique to itself and I don't really think you're anymore relaxed going into Dover or anymore tense for that reason. Again, it's a fun race track for me to drive, it always has been. Maybe some of the guys over past years, when it was 500 miles, maybe got caught up in the hype of the Monster Mile. It's a tough race track. It's not very forgiving. If you make a mistake, usually it's not a situation where you just brushed the wall there. Usually, you do a lot of damage. Like I say, it's been pretty kind to me over the years. There's a lot of steepness in the straightaways, so if you do have an accident it usually carries you to the inside wall and you don't generally get a second chance at Dover."
ASSESS YOUR SEASON?
"The early part of the season or three quarters of the season was really spent sort of floundering around. Our superspeedway program was pretty right on, especially for qualifying. We had a pole at Talladega and I think a third in the July race at Daytona - big qualifying efforts but not a whole lot there with the race situation. I think we've only got one top-10 finish this year and that was at a road course at Watkins Glen, so up until about three or four races ago, there's really not a whole lot there to get excited about with the exception of recently. We've seen big progress since Michael "Fatback" McSwain showed up. We don't have the finishing results, but the on-track performance has definitely taken a huge improvement."
IS THAT RELATIONSHIP THE KEY TO SUCCESS?
"I think the key is whatever you've got to do to get results. With Fatback and myself, we've always been able to get results. Again, as far as things, you don't really have all the right answers but the chemistry just seems to be there. He really seems to understand when I tell him what the car is doing. He's very good at understanding the way I relate to what the car is doing. Maybe because he was a former driver, he ran some modified or local dirt races and pavement races, so he understands probably from a driver's perspective a lot better than some of the crew chiefs that are out there. But the bottom line is when I can go out there and run on the race track and say, 'Well, the car is a little loose or a little tighter on the entrance to the corner,' we go faster. Well, very seldom ever do we go back out after adjustments get made that the car doesn't respond. He usually seems to go and works and fixes the area that we needed help in. That's a pretty welcome relief and a pretty good communication thing to have going to be able to get those results. We unloaded at New Hampshire and weren't particularly good off the trailer. Fatback was not at the first Loudon race, so he didn't have a notebook to go off of too much and we went out and ran. It wasn't long right before qualifying that we got the car dialed in and we were seventh-fastest on the speed charts going into qualifying. So it's back to that communication and knowing how to quickly adjust. A lot of that is coming without testing. We have not been able to test because the team has been behind getting cars built and trying to get things understood what we actually have in the shop - how they're built - so Fatback knows how to adjust them. So most of that time has been spent in a productive way learning what we've got there in the shop."
WHEN DO YOU KNOW TO GET STARTED FOR 2005?
"I honestly give Eddie Wood a pat on the back for patience. Eddie's a little more patient than I am, I guess. The results just weren't coming and things weren't really clicking there. I think knowing that there's no possible way to make that top 10 cutoff, and in this day and time, if you're not in the top 10, you might as well pull over and just either sit out and come back next year or go to work on your program and try to get it where you come out of the box powerful for the next season. Obviously, you don't have the option of sitting out the rest of the year and it wouldn't make a lot of sense anyway, but use this time to get your ducks in a row for next year because one thing I've noticed is that it's so competitive now that you can't really come out of the box and have a problem and overcome it and probably still make it into the top 10 in points. In years past, you pretty much have been able to do that, so I think not only our team but a lot of teams have elected to use the rest of this year to rebuild their program and to come out of the box strong for 2005."
WHAT OTHER TRACKS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO?
"We've got Martinsville coming up and that's gonna be the first time we run one of Fatback's cars that was built from the ground up. So we're kind of anxious to look at that. We've always had good cars at Martinsville and Fatback has had exceptionally good cars at Martinsville. He ran very well there with Bobby Labonte, I think, early in the year and he's always run well there, so I'm looking forward to that race. But you've got a lot of races coming up. Phoenix is a good one and the list goes on. To tell you the truth, I sort of look at it one weekend at a time and don't get caught up in it too much. But this coming weekend, up at Dover it has obviously been a good one for us. I'm gonna be a lot more excited once I get the new chassis in the system."
HOW HAS NEXTEL MADE AN IMPACT THIS YEAR?
"I think it's gone pretty smoothly, really. I guess that's a good thing not to see any major hiccups in the situation, which I'm sure there are a lot of things that have probably happened behind the scenes that as competitors we haven't seen. I'm still trying to learn all the faces over there with the Nextel group. That's gonna take some time, I guess, but things are quite a bit different with the new system and the way they've got it in place."
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?
"I was talking just mainly about the points battle. There's a lot of pressure to make that top 10 cut and from here on out that's pretty much all you're gonna hear is that top 10 battle. That's quite a bit different and I don't think that's really meant in a negative way towards Nextel, it's just the way the points situation works out if you're not in the top 10. It's kind of bad for your sponsor if you go out and win every race over the rest of the season and not too many people would know about it."
HOW DO WE KNOW IT'S NEXTEL AND NOT WINSTON ANYMORE?
"I guess probably the biggest thing for me is the colors are different. You've got the yellow and black of Nextel and the red and white. I guess there's still some of that red and white paint left around. I see a lot of the walls are still painted red and white, so a lot of people are still using that Winston paint on the walls, but the Nextel towers that you see around the race track. Besides that, really, from the competitors view, it's operating pretty well. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. The transition has been pretty smooth."
ANY IDEA ABOUT THE ENGINE PROBLEM SUNDAY?
"I have not heard back yet. Obviously, it's pretty terminal and I'm not really sure what happened. It's sort of unfortunate. I think we were the only ones there, I believe, that had a motor problem the other day, but it's been rare. We've had really good motors all year long. I guess you're always gonna be due for an engine failure. That just happens. It's unfortunate because we were having a good day. It couldn't have happened the first three quarters of the season when it would have just pretty much put us out of our misery, but we actually had a top-five or top-10 run going the other day."
DO YOU BELIEVE WINNING RACES WILL GET SOME ATTENTION?
"I think, for sure, it's kind of hard to skip over you if you actually go out and win a race, but I still wouldn't expect - and I think everyone understands what the playing field is now if you're not in that top 10. It's gonna be pretty hard to get your sponsors press at this time for the rest of the year. It's gonna be real hard. I know TV is very biased toward the top 10 and they sort of forget about the rest of the crowd there regardless of what you're doing on the race track and that's sort of unfortunate. Sponsors in this sport spend a lot of money to get recognized. That's one reason they're out there, but the new format just doesn't lend itself to that. We pretty much knew that going in when the season started, I think everybody did and that's just the way it is."
YOU'RE GOING TO BE RACING HARD AND TRYING TO WIN THESE LAST NINE RACES, RIGHT?
"Exactly. Every team out there has their own set of goals and priorities of what they're trying to accomplish the rest of the year. A lot of them, when I say experimenting, they're gonna come to that race track with the very best equipment they can possibly bring. Yeah, there may be some rolling of the dice, maybe, that would not have happened if the top-10 points thing wasn't really locked in at this point. If you're outside of that top 10, again, our goals might be a little different from the rest of the group because we haven't been competitive on the race track like we've needed to be, so there might be a little more experimentation with us than maybe some of the other guys. It really depends on how far off your program is. There are some guys that finished just outside of the top 10 that they had momentum and they were coming, they just didn't quite make it happen with the right breaks at the right time in that cutoff point before Richmond. But some of these guys have got their program together and they don't really need to do a whole lot of anything. Where, on the other hand, there's quite a few guys that are not as competitive as they need to be and they're working on that very hard. Again, the best thing that we could possibly accomplish between here and the rest of the season is to run well, run top-10s and top-fives and, if you happen to get your act together really good, you can slip in there and win one of these things. Again, our goals aren't any different. We're just working very hard to get the Motorcraft Ford back on competitive par."
WERE YOU BLINDSIDED ABOUT THIS NEW POINT SYSTEM AND WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS?
"I'm open-minded - you have to be this day and time. You never know, really, in this sport what's gonna happen behind the scenes. Television nowadays dictates, really, what goes on, in my opinion. It's more about making sure they get the best TV ratings they can so they can sell some advertising time. Is the program exciting, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see and see what the fans say, but from what I can see, there is definitely a lot of interest and a lot of interest in the sport, especially right around the Richmond race. It was pretty interesting to watch the guys that were just outside the top 10 trying to get in, like Jeremy came from four or five spots back to get into that top 10. And there had to be some heartbreaks with guys that didn't make the top 10, so there are a lot of stories there that took place right around the Richmond race. What happens over the next nine races, we'll have to see if they can keep it exciting for the next nine races left in the season. But it does have some subplots that maybe normally weren't there. As a competitor, it definitely makes you feel sort of an outsider looking in, but, by the same token, most of the people on the outside looking in didn't run well enough to make the cut, so there's really not a lot of excuses. We just have to get running better, but it definitely makes you feel like you don't want to be out of that top 10."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BRIAN FRANCE TAKING OVER?
"It's definitely a season full of changes. I think the bottom line is we'll wait and see. It's not so much what that competitors think about it. The rules have always been massaged a little here, a little there and you still go out there. The bottom line is if you go out there on the race track and run good and win races, the rest of the things will sort of take care of itself and that has not changed. I think the real test will be looking in those grandstands when the season starts to wind down. If you see a bunch of empty seats, then things aren't going real well. If you see the seats filled up, then I'd say things are going very well and, to me, that ought to be the report card."
IS THIS THE MOST CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN?
"I really can't think of any year. For many years things just sort of went along and the adage was, 'Don't try to fix something that's not broke.' I think that was pretty much the plan for many years and racing has grown. It's grown each year to a higher level and now we're into a lot of changes. I don't know if you can tell right away. I think time will tell whether or not it's successful or not, but one thing I guess I've learned about Brian France and his group is that if it doesn't work and it's not successful, then you can expect some changes to redo the program to try to get it successful. So it doesn't seem to be written in stone and there are some creative people behind the scenes trying to think up better ideas to make this sport better. In that respect, I think we're in good hands."
THOUGHTS ON SCANNER TRAFFIC AND POSSIBLY BEING AIRED?
"I think as far as from a competitor's standpoint, you realize you're being monitored. That doesn't always sink in sometimes when you're in the heat of the battle or you've got a problem and you're trying to work through how to handle that issue. You're not really thinking about the millions of people that possibly could be listening in. You realize people at the race track have scanners and they're gonna be listening in, but where do you separate the entertainment value? I know a lot of people are very interested and the fans are very knowledgeable of our sport today. I think they would feel very shut out if they were not allowed to scan and listen in on your channels. Do I agree with TV kind of tapping in and listening in on inopportune times? I think they could be a little more discreet about it. There are conversations a lot of times that probably don't need to be heard, but by the same token those are the public airwaves, so what are you gonna do about it?"
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FANS AT THE TRACK HEARING IT AND THOSE ON TV?
"That's a good question. I guess a lot of teams still scan each other. At one time teams were going to scrambled frequencies and I don't know if that's even allowed anymore. I guess in a lot of ways there's really no difference, I reckon is what you're saying and I can kind of see your point. If fans can listen to it at the race track, why can't the fans at home be privileged to that? I guess that's where certain things should be private, but I kind of contradicted myself. If people in the stands can hear it, then they should be able to hear it at home. I guess if I had my way, all the frequencies would be scrambled and it wouldn't be public information. I'll get a lot of hate mail about that, but, to me, that's the race team's strategy. That's like sitting in on a business meeting. I don't necessarily agree with it. I definitely agree that it adds value to the entertainment side of it."
IS THERE A HAPPY MEDIUM?
"I don't know how to answer that. As drivers, we've got to be very careful about what we say on the radio as far as censorship. It's always pretty much been that way, but now it's even more so important. If you happen to slip, a driver could very well end up with a one or two million dollar fine if you're not careful on what he says in the heat of battle on his radio. That's why every driver would prefer to have his channel scrambled, I think."
CAN YOU RACE THE SAME WAY IF THE CHASE ISN'T ON?
"I think so. The only difference, when you get down late in the season and NASCAR is very good about this, and I've been a receiver of this is at the driver's meeting a lot of times in the last two or three races it actually almost gets comical. I remember the comments being made over the years. 'If anybody runs in and knocks one of the top two or three guys out of the way that's running for the points championship, you better go find the other two and knock them out of the way, too, because we don't want it to be decided by another competitor being able to purposely take another competitor out.' You've got 10 guys now running for this championship. You can't pull over and let those 10 just go race. Somewhere along the way you've got to do your normal thing. If you're normally aggressive and you're outside of the top 10, I think you've got to continue to be aggressive. You're just gonna have to be smart aggressive it looks like. You have to be very aware that those guys are running in the top 10 and you don't want to change that outcome. By the same token, you can't be bullied either, so if somebody in the top 10 starts an incident, they need to expect that they don't have a carte blanche credit card to do whatever they want also."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BIFFLE-GORDON ISSUE AND WHETHER IT'S APPROPRIATE TO PAY SOMEBODY BACK RIGHT AWAY.
"I've always had a crew chief or my spotter tell me not to forget the big picture. I don't really know what happened the other day with Robby Gordon and Biffle and that bunch, but there's a time to handle it and there's time not to. It's sort of a selfish time to handle it if you decide to handle an issue and you take other innocent bystanders with you. The fight was between, I understand, Robby Gordon and Greg Biffle. First of all, there's no one who comes out and says, 'You've got to settle this anyway,' but if you do settle it, you don't need to involve innocent bystanders. In this case, it took out some of the top point guys. That didn't need to happen. If Robby felt he was compelled to take action, it didn't have to happen right away. It could have happened later on. It could have happened a few races from now or whatever, but a little thought needs to be going into that where you don't take other people out."
MATT SAID EARLIER THERE SHOULDN'T BE WARNINGS.
"Where do you draw the line? If NASCAR says, 'OK, these top 10 are racing for the points,' well the rest of us might as well pull over to the curb and let 'em go - let 'em go race, but it might be kind of boring with 10 cars out there running around chasing each other every week. So somewhere there's a fine line there and the way I look at it is you race like you do every week. Those guys that are gonna give you a cheap shot, those guys are gonna continue to do it. That's not gonna stop them, but most of the problems you see on a race track is just people racing each other very hard and someone slips. That's usually what causes an accident. Occasionally, a guy will get impatient and shove somebody out of the way. To me, the way I look at it is if you're in the top 10 and you get impatient and shove somebody, you ought to expect to be shoved back."
WAS TWO LAPS A FAIR PENALTY FOR ROBBY AND DOES NASCAR HAVE TO SET THAT PRECEDENT?
"I can only say that it's a lot different now than it was five or 10 years ago and I think that's part of the problem. There's not a strong enough hammer that comes down nowadays. If you are sitting there listening to a guy, maybe he was dealt a cheap shot or maybe it was an accident, but where I was always put in my place was if someone comes on your radio - and you've got to figure everybody is listening - and they blatantly hear you come out and say, 'I'm gonna go out and take this guy out,' and you do it, then how stupid can you be? NASCAR ought to take whoever - and to answer your question, two laps is not enough. If a guy blatantly takes somebody out on purpose for revenge, the rule was they'd pull you into the pits and sit you down for maybe 15-20 laps and maybe not even let you go out and race the rest of the race. That was the way it was for years and everybody sort of understood the penalty box, but it just seems like there really isn't much of one anymore."