Pocono II: Ricky Rudd preview

Ricky Rudd: "Our team has been learning a lot the last couple of weeks on chassis and aero, and we're going back to Pocono with a little different plan." Ricky Rudd, driver of the ...

Ricky Rudd: "Our team has been learning a lot the last couple of weeks on chassis and aero, and we're going back to Pocono with a little different plan."

Ricky Rudd, driver of the #21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, answers fan questions on racing at Pocono, the new gear rule, tires and his current equipment. Rudd has gained nine positions in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points standings in the last four races.

With the team starting to fire on all cylinders and the rash of bad luck behind you, can you capitalize on this weekend where you and Fatback have had success in the past? "Well, I think so. Our team has been learning a lot the last couple of weeks on chassis and aero, and we're going back to Pocono with a little different plan. It wasn't a great race for us in June. We kept tearing up tires last time. We actually had a pretty fast car. We weren't a winning car, but we restarted at the front several times because we were laps down and we looked like we were a third- to fifth-place car had we not had to visit pit road for flat tires. I think there are a lot of things we are learning, and we are going to continue on with the game plan Fatback has had in recent weeks and I see no reason why they will not work at Pocono. We'll know when we get back. We'll just go with the flow of what we've been learning."

Do you feel more confident going into a race that you have previously won? "I like Pocono. It's been a real good track over the years. I've run there a lot and won some and had two or three races that slipped away, and there's a whole lot of top-fives and top10s at that track. I've always enjoyed racing there. A lot of guys don't. A lot of guys just don't like the track, and I've always enjoyed it. I think any time you go somewhere that you enjoy racing usually your performance is pretty decent. I've never experienced what we did at the last Pocono. It was a crazy deal with all the tire problems that we had. Hopefully, when we go back we won't have that this time. I know they have made some modifications to the race track. We'll see how it goes."

Is there any added pressure when you go into a race when you have won there before? "No, I don't think there is any more pressure. Every driver has a little different style from one another. Because I've run so many races at some of these tracks, you can pretty much tell that if you are good when you roll off the truck you are going to have fun because you are going to run good. Pocono is one of those types of tracks. There are a few exceptions to that when we didn't run well, but most of the time we've run pretty good. And, a lot of our fans are from that area so they always come out and support us well."

In June it seemed like the car was really fast on new tires, is there anything you can change (setup perhaps) to prevent the tire issue you experienced in June for the upcoming race, or were the tires the problem? "I believe we had tire problems and the race track had changed over the winter. There were some bumps in turn two that haven't been there in the past, and I think that contributed to what we experienced. I guess I'm somewhat concerned because we still have never really found out what was causing it. I think at one time they said drivers were running over the rumble strips, which I know we weren't, and then they said it was air pressure, so we tried that. We never really figured it out and I'm not sure Goodyear ever figured it out, so there are some concerns. Some guys didn't have any issues. Our race car was pretty good, that was the strange thing. When all the smoke cleared, we were multiple laps down because of the tire failures, but it looked like we had a third- to sixth-place car. Unfortunately, we just could never overcome all those laps. I was under the impression that they were gonna repave turn two, but I was hoping they would laser grind that area. There were some tremendous bumps over there that were not there the year before. They were such violent bumps that if you hit them, and it didn't really matter on the race track where you hit them, it was right in the apex of the corner. I couldn't find a way to miss them, and I don't think anybody did, but it would just about snatch the steering wheel out of your hand. In my opinion, that helped contribute to the problems. I understand they've done something different with the curbs, which I don't think was the issue, to be honest with you, so I don't know. We'll see."

Does the equipment/engine combination that you drive now measure up to the cars you've had at Yates? "We've got good equipment, as good as anybody has got on any given weekend. What it is now, it is so temperamental, so much more temperamental now than it was two or three years ago on getting your setups exactly right. Where we get sort of handicapped is the number of tests we actually get as a single-car operation. We don't have the luxury of a teammate having been to that track a few weeks before and bringing back computer data that you can look through and sort through. The benefit of a Pocono, whether or run good, bad or indifferent we were just there a month ago. You know what problems we fought there, and you'll come back prepared a little bit better than you were the previous time. Again, to me you aren't going to be handicapped like you were the first race. Some teams that tested there brought data back to their other teams. Had Fatback and Hoyt seen that they might have been able to have a setup that was a lot better than what we had."

Last Pocono race you never had to shift. Are you running and handling better now that you don't have to shift? "I don't think so. I've been there when you didn't shift and when you shifted. It's a lot less fatigue in not having to shift. I'm not sure how many cars finished the race, but I'd bet a lot more cars finished the race not having to shift. The shifting deal, you get caught up in racing each other. And some times you'll say, 'Well, I'm going to carry this transmission or the rpm's just a little bit further this time,' if you are racing somebody side by side. If you do that enough, it accumulates the punishment on the motor. The first time you rev it another couple hundred rpm's past the designated rpm it's not a big deal, but if you do that lap-in and lap-out, eventually it will kill the motor. And you used to see a lot of motor failures at Pocono. I'm not sure at this last race, but I don't think there were that many motor failures. NASCAR dictated the gear ratio, and since you can't shift that dictated the overall rpm."

What is the rpm difference this year with the mandated rear gear rule? "There is no difference with the rpm on the front straightaway. The rpm on the back straight and the short chute is less than we've seen in the past. The gear that we've got turns maximum rpm on the front straightaway. We used to downshift going into one and you would run that lower gear all the way up the backstretch, so you used to punish the motor harder on the backstretch and the short chute so it should be easier on the motor."

How difficult was it to learn how to drive Pocono when you first went there? "To me it was not an issue. I've always like road racing and it was like a left-handed road course, so it really never was an issue for me. The first time I ran it I liked it. I settled right into it and felt comfortable. Some guys have a really hard time with it. I'm not really sure why, but some do. To me, it's an easy race track to drive, and when it's smooth it's a fun track. The winters are pretty hard up there and right now it's pretty bumpy. What's going on now in the handling department the cars are so ride height sensitive that it kind of throws you a curve ball as far as getting the car set up because it is so bumpy."

I understand it is common that the setup at Pocono is a compromise. Which corner do you want your car set up for? "For years everybody used to set up for the tunnel turn, turn two. That was the primary corner everyone wanted to be set up for because if you got through turn three good it would give you a good front straightaway speed, but now you can't give up in any corner and be competitive. You've got to have your car good in all the corners, but if I had to take a choice I'd much rather run the tunnel good and run the front straightaway corner - turn three - good. Turn one is banked more so you've got a little flexibility in moving the groove around in turn one and you can adjust the handling of your car by changing your groove. So, I personally like to get a car that will go through the tunnel turn, turn two and get into the three the best."

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup