Daytona Beach, Fla. - On Nov. 23, Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Havoline Ford, climbed out of his racecar after the season-ending race at New Hampshire International Speedway and began preparing for a different kind of challenge. Rudd...
Daytona Beach, Fla. - On Nov. 23, Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Havoline Ford, climbed out of his racecar after the season-ending race at New Hampshire International Speedway and began preparing for a different kind of challenge.
Rudd underwent outpatient surgery on Dec. 5 to repair a bulging disk in his lower back. The disk was putting pressure on his spinal cord.
"I woke up one morning at Dover in June and could hardly straighten up," Rudd said. "I thought I had just slept on it wrong, but it never got better. Fortunately, it never got worse either. It just was there for six months before I could get it fixed.
"I went into surgery early that morning and they knocked me out. I woke up and felt so much better than when I walked in there. I walked out around noon that day."
As a precaution, Rudd opted not to participate in off-season testing to insure complete healing. On Feb. 8, Rudd will climb back aboard his Robert Yates Racing Taurus at Daytona International Speedway after 76 days out of the seat, the longest spell away from the wheel in his 25-plus year career.
"I'm very well rested and looking forward to the season." Rudd said. "I've never been out of a car this long because we've always tested in January and even in December years ago. It was a nice break for me, but I'm very ready to get back at it."
Rudd has found success since he joined Robert Yates Racing. In 2000, his first year in the No. 28 car, he finished fifth in points and followed that up last year with a pair of wins and a fourth place finish in the series standings.
Rudd's first year with the team produced 12 top-fives and 19 top-10 finishes. Last year, Rudd scored 14 top-fives, 22 top-10s, and spent 13 weeks late in the season in the second spot in points.
"We don't know what Daytona will hold for us with the new rules," Rudd said. "We are really looking forward to a strong season. I think we have everything in place to contend for a championship again and hope we can make another run at it this year."
Rudd has started 50 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races at Daytona International Speedway, including 24 Daytona 500's and also 13 Budweiser Shootouts. He has won one pole position, one of the Twin-125 Qualifying races and has finished fourth at the speedway four times, including in last year's Daytona 500. He has 12 top-five finishes and 26 top-10's.