Pocono II: Ricky Rudd - NASCAR spotlight

Rudd prepares to add to "Iron Man" resume DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 22, 2003) -- Four U.S. presidents have been elected to office. The wreckage of the Titanic was discovered. The Berlin Wall fell. Johnny Carson left "The Tonight Show."...

Rudd prepares to add to "Iron Man" resume

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 22, 2003) -- Four U.S. presidents have been elected to office. The wreckage of the Titanic was discovered. The Berlin Wall fell. Johnny Carson left "The Tonight Show." Cal Ripken Jr. began -- and ended -- his streak of 2,632 consecutive starts for the Baltimore Orioles. Michael Jordan retired -- again and again and again.

But since January 11, 1981 at Riverside International Speedway, one thing has remained constant -- Ricky Rudd being a part of the starting grid of a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race.

Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) has started a NASCAR Winston Cup-record 699 consecutive races, and has his sights set on No. 700 at Sunday's Pennsylvania 500. The start at Pocono Raceway would be Rudd's 49th at the track, more than any other NASCAR Winston Cup driver. The highlight of the 49 starts came in the Pocono 500 of June 2001 when he recorded his lone victory at the 2.5-mile track.

During a streak that has entered its 22nd season, Rudd has registered 23 NASCAR Winston Cup wins, 28 Bud Poles, 186 top-five finishes and 322 top-10 efforts. He has been ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 at season's end a total of 18 times during the streak, with a top finish of second coming in the 1991 season. He has earned over $30 million in winnings and was voted one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers during that span.

Plenty to be proud of, plenty to relish. But one aspect of his streak -- quality finishes -- stands out most for Rudd, a 46-year-old native of Chesapeake, Va.

"I guess something I'm a little prouder of -- and I'm not sure of the average -- but in nearly 50% of those races (actually 46% during the streak -- 322 of 358), we finished in the top 10," Rudd said. "So it is not just being there, it is kind of the quality of the finishes you got when you were there.

"I get asked a lot how the sport has changed," he said. "I've been around since 1975, and I'm coming close to 800 starts. But the first seven, eight years of my career were spent working hard trying to get my foot in the door. That was the hard part. There were a lot of successful guys and very talented drivers that just never made it.

"Now you've got 43 cars on any given weekend that if everything gets tuned up just right any of those 43 could win. There are favorites, but it's not impossible for one of these guys to win that you're not expecting to because of the quality of the teams and the quality of the drivers. There's a lot more depth of competition than there used to be."

-nascar-

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup