This Week in Ford Racing April 29, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, is in his first year driving for the Wood Brothers and he goes into this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup event at Richmond...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 29, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, is in his first year driving for the Wood Brothers and he goes into this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup event at Richmond International Raceway 18th in the point standings. Rudd, along with owners Len and Eddie Wood, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
Part 1 of 2
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
YOU'VE HAD SOME GOOD SUCCESS AT RIR.
"It's been a good track for me over the years, even the old fairgrounds. There probably aren't a lot of guys out there today that ran on the old fairgrounds race track, but both tracks have been pretty good to me. I enjoy the new layout and the way the track is designed and built. It just lends itself to good racing. I don't think you'll talk to any of the drivers that does not enjoy racing at Richmond, just because the track seems to suit the Winston Cup cars."
RIR IS ABOUT DRIVER AND CREW, CORRECT?
"It really is. Pit stops on every track we go to now are real critical. Track position is important, and Richmond is a short track. It's a little bit different than Martinsville - there aren't too many short tracks left on the circuit even though I guess Richmond is technically a three-quarter mile track, we treat it like a short track - but there's a lot of pressure on turning the car around between qualifying and getting it ready to race. But, again, anywhere we go emphasis is on track position. We elected to test at Richmond mainly because the schedule is tight and it is a good race track for us. We wanted to make sure that we had our ducks in a row when we went up there."
IS RIR A TRACK WHERE THROTTLE CONTROL IS AS IMPORTANT AS ANY PLACE YOU GO?
"I wouldn't really say that applies to Richmond. What you're speaking of applies to Martinsville, where you've got to use the throttle almost like a dimmer switch on a chandelier - you kind of gradually turn it on up as you go further around the corner. Richmond in not quite that way. You get such a good grip to the race track that once you're out of the gas and get the car turned in the middle of the corner, you pretty much mat the throttle. It's not a slow roll-in throttle situation. A guy who is smooth on the throttle doesn't really get you a lot at Richmond, it's more about getting the car to grip and being able to stay low on the exit of the corner. So when you get in heavy traffic, you can run the bottom of the race track."
HOW MUCH FUN IS RIR FOR THE DRIVER?
"To me, it's a lot of fun. If you have something go wrong, like maybe you have a glitch on a pit stop or you need to come in and work on your chassis, even if you end up with poor track position Richmond is a track that you can run inside and outside. You don't really get bottle-necked like you do at some of the tracks we go to just because you have two lines of racing. Sometimes, in turn three, I've seen it back before the extra sealer got put on the track, where you could actually make it three-wide through the middle of the corner. You cannot enter the corner three-wide, but you can run through the middle and the exit. I've seen three-wide there before, so I think that's the part that makes it so much fun."
YOU'VE BEEN IN A SITUATION LIKE RUSTY WALLACE, WHERE YOU HAVE A DRY SPELL. WHAT IS THAT LIKE?
"I've been there. It's very frustrating. I wouldn't really say it's a record you take for granted, but when you've had previous race wins over the years and you get to the point where all of a sudden you've come up close but the win column still says zero, it can tend to work on you a bit. You sort of just have to put it out of focus and continue to do what you've been doing and stick to your game plan. I know Rusty has run really well some this year. It's kind of been hit-and-miss, but he ran really good at California the other day. What happens is that the fans - they don't mean harm, they mean well by it - but they'll remind you about that win streak and, of course, the press reminds you about that streak. They seem to know when your last win came before we do, so he's being reminded of it constantly. It can wear on you if you let it, but you've got to learn to put it out of your mind and do what you know how to do."
THE THING IS, HE'S NOT RUNNING BAD. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU'RE RUNNING GOOD BUT CAN'T WIN?
"His situation is a little different than mine was. Mine came to an end when my team was struggling financially to try to stay afloat, so we sort of saw the handwriting on the wall coming. In Rusty's situation, they might have some problems, but probably money and equipment and technology is not one of them. I really don't have an answer for that. Again, I can just tell you that it can be frustrating, but running good and being in the hunt challenging for wins smoothes it over a little bit. But, still, when that win column is zero for a couple of years, it can take its toll on you."
HAVE YOU HAD ANY TROUBLE WITH CARBON MONOXIDE AND HOW BIG OF A PROBLEM DO YOU THINK IT IS IN STOCK CARS?
"I can sit here and say that I really haven't had any trouble, but I go back to the earlier years when I ran. To me, physically, after the races they would literally drag you out of the race car almost every race and if you weren't drug out of the race car and helped to get an ice cold shower to cool you off, if you weren't that tired, the philosophy was almost that maybe you weren't driving hard enough. As the equipment got better, power-steering came along, cars became better insulated, the air-conditioned helmets came along. All of a sudden, now you finish the race and you feel like you can run another 500 miles. I think the carbon monoxide was probably worse for many years back before the cool helmets came along because you breathed a lot of the air inside the car. You had an open-face helmet and the air inside the car is what you tended to breathe. As a matter of fact, your face would be black with the rubber that came off the tires. You could taste the grime in your throat for a while after that, so, I think what happened is that air-conditioned helmets came along and now you're taking in air from the outside. I'm sure that is still contaminated air, but not to the degree of what we used to breathe inside the car. I always used to get a pretty severe headache after every race and I just assumed it was stress related because you were intense in driving the race and your neck muscles were really tense at the time. I just attributed it to that, but, I guess what we're finding out now is that maybe that was more carbon monoxide than it was stress related or a muscle-related headache."
HOW ACCURATE OF A BAROMETER IS THE FIRST 10 RACES TO JUDGE WHO THE TITLE CONTENDERS WILL BE?
"I don't know. You've kind of run a wide variety of tracks right now and you can maybe start to see a pattern develop. Some of the guys have been strong at all the tracks. Some of them have been strong at maybe the short-track program and weak on the bigger tracks or vice versa. I think you're starting to see a pattern develop right now. I wouldn't rule anybody out or include or exclude anybody at this point. There's still some time to go. I don't really like to look at it real hard until you get to the middle part of the season. You can obviously see that Kurt Busch is on top of his program and been very stout. Matt Kenseth is pretty stout. Dale, Jr. has been more hit and miss than a couple guys, but I would hate to try to pick a championship contender right now."
WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET RACING TODAY?
"It's a different shift. It seems like in some ways racing was a lot harder years ago because you had to work on your own equipment and then you had to do your part and drive to help get the equipment to the race tracks and so on. It was a different type of grind than it is today. Today it seems that every day that goes by you've got something to do. Even if you're not at the race track, you've got some kind of a PR commitment to do. It's harder to find free time for yourself to sort of get a break. You've got to work on that so you don't get involved in a burnout factor because you could literally be going seven days a week every waking hour of the day if you tried to get in and tried to do everything that was demanded of you. That's the balance, I think, that keeps some drivers fresher than others is keeping that PR schedule where it makes some sense and you can get some rest. But I don't look at it in a way that you've only got so much energy and then one day it's burnt up. I look at my family history and in my case, my dad is in his late seventies and does a lot of physical work every day, so everybody is different. You can't really put a gauge on when someone's career is getting used up because everyone is a little different."
CAN YOU ASSESS YOUR PERFORMANCE SO FAR WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS?
"I'd like to be critical, I think Larry McReynolds rated us a couple of weeks ago. I guess he had a ratings system and I didn't read the whole extent of it, but I think he gave us something somewhere in the category of a D and, to be honest, I can't disagree with the track results that we've posted so far. We've had one really good result and that was a fourth at Bristol and I was excited about that, but I look at it a little bit deeper. I look at our short-track performance at not being that far off. It's fairly close. We've run well. We ran fourth at Bristol, 11th at Martinsville, which very easily could have been a seventh. I think I got up to seventh and the caution came out at the end and I gave up some positions, but the shorter tracks we've been pretty good. The intermediate-sized tracks like we ran at California and Las Vegas, we've got some serious work to do. I'm not pleased and the Wood Brothers aren't pleased. You can sit here and complain or you can go to work and all of our guys have chosen to go to work on it. They're definitely trying hard to give me a car that feels good for me on the flatter, faster tracks. No one is giving up until we get it and, hopefully, it's sooner rather than later."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE PARITY SITUATION IN NASCAR TODAY? ARE WE PAST THE POINT OF SEEING SOMEONE LIKE JEFF GORDON WIN 10 RACES IN A SEASON?
"I would almost think so, but I've seen a couple of cars awfully dominant early in the year. A good example is Kurt Busch, he's done an excellent job. Matt Kenseth seems to be pretty strong week in and week out. Dale, Jr. is a little more hit and miss than those guys, but to see nine or 10 races won, yeah, I'd say that's probably almost and impossibility this day and time. To see somebody have four wins in a season, I don't think that's impossible. We'll probably see that, but I will say there are a lot of guys with strong cars that have not won yet and it's only a matter of time before they do. That's definitely gonna add to the number of multiple winners this year."
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE NUMBER OF INTERMEDIATE TRACKS ON THE SCHEDULE NOW?
"There's no doubt about it, we see a lot of tracks popping up that look very similar to one another and it seems to be focused on that mile-and-a-half sized race track. You talk to 10 drivers and you're gonna get 10 different opinions. In my opinion, I enjoy tracks like Richmond, a three-quarter-mile track, Rockingham, a mile track - it seems like to me you get a little bit closer, bumper-to-bumper, side-by-side racing when you get on tracks a mile or below. I think the key factor is the aerodynamics are not as critical on those tracks. It's back to the good chassis guys working on their race cars and making mechanical grip and depending less on the air. I think when you have to depend on the air, I think, unfortunately, the cars tend to get strung out. You get on those big mile-and-a-half tracks and you get into that type of problem. Again, my preference is the mile and three-quarter-mile tracks, but the next guy on the line is gonna tell you that he likes the mile-and-a-half to two-mile tracks."
IF ONE PERSON BUILT A SMALL TRACK TODAY AND IT BECAME A SUCCESS, WOULD WE SEE MORE OF THEM AROUND THE COUNTRY?
"I think the bottom line is for the long haul you're gonna have to have good, exciting side-by-side racing on TV. Whether that's the mile-and-a-half that maybe is done a little bit differently - maybe they play with the asphalt compounds and things of that nature, the bank angles - to make those race tracks lend themselves to good side-by-side racing. I'm not ruling out that a mile-and-a-half track can't be properly designed to get side-by-side racing, it's just gonna be more difficult. Three-quarter-mile tracks like Richmond, when it was built, was sort of an odd ball. I know a lot of people probably thought Paul Sawyer was crazy to spend that kind of money to re-do his speedway and only make it a three-quarter-mile. As it turns out - watching Bristol and watching Richmond - I think Bristol showed that you can put 160,000-170,000 people around a half-mile race track and do it in a manner that's a nice-looking facility. I'm so far removed as most of the drivers are from what goes on in the race track design side of it. We're out of that loop, so why worry about it if we can't control it? Personal preference, I'd like to see some more smaller tracks being put in the system."
WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THOSE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS COULD USE SOME FINE-TUNING?
"I think nearly all of them could use a little tweaking. Some of them are a little bit better than others, but I think the trick is the bank angles and the asphalt surface. Some race tracks lend itself to make better grip because of the mixture of asphalt, so I think that in combination with the entrance bank angle and compound bank angles - things we maybe haven't seen yet. I think we will see it soon - an introduction of some more sophistication when it comes to making the race track lend itself to more side-by-side racing. I think that's coming as we speak."
EDDIE WOOD , Owner - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
CAN YOU SUM UP THE SEASON TO DATE?
"So far we haven't really gotten exactly what we wanted, but we're digging and working on it. We were in Richmond last week and had a test. That was really only our second test since Daytona and things went really well. We found some stuff that we've been probably missing on and, hopefully when we go back the car will still be as good as it was when we tested. We're struggling a little bit on the intermediates right now. We're attending to that. We haven't gotten a fix for it yet, but we've changed something every week whether it's an aero thing or a chassis thing to try to find what we're looking for. We're hopefully going to test next week or the week after at an intermediate race track and see if we can get down to what's going on."