In an NASCAR world of retirement tours only equal to The Who and Pink Floyd, Ricky Rudd has decided to quietly and eloquently slip out the back door. Rudd announced Tuesday that he plans on stepping away from the sport as of 2005 but stopped short of calling it a retirement.

Rudd commented that he had been asked to take over the No. 2 Dodge of Rusty Wallace next year in the event that Kurt Busch was unable to gain his release from Roush Racing. It was confirmed yesterday that Busch had been let out of his contract and free to take the ride at Penske beginning in 2006.

"First, let me say that discussions between me and the Penske organization about driving the No. 2 car next year came up very recently and after I already had decided to take a break from racing for a time," Rudd said. "I had previously turned down several other opportunities to drive for teams and owners I respect, but the Penske opportunity was unique, and maybe the only offer that would have made me consider changing my plans to step back for a time.

"The thing that made the offer unique was not often does the opportunity come along to step into a championship contending car with just a one-year driving obligation.

"In my view, however, the way this has worked out is to everyone's benefit. I get to take the break I was planning to take and the No. 2 team gets to do what is best for them and their sponsors long term. I am happy that I was able to provide them with a good alternative in case Kurt was not able to drive the No. 2 car next year, but quite frankly -- for me and my family -- the way it has turned out is a much better result."

Rudd currently pilots the No. 21 Woods Brothers Ford, that seat, however will be occupied next year by Ken Schrader.

"If I were to decide never to drive again, I have had a great career," Rudd said. "My hat is off to NASCAR for making the sport what it is today, but I particularly would like to thank all the great sponsors and car owners who put their trust in me and made my career possible, people like Junie Dunlevy, Richard Childress, Bud Moore, Kenny Bernstein, Rick Hendrick, Robert Yates and the Woods.

"I have been privileged to drive for some of the best. I also want to thank all of the talented and dedicated people I have worked with in racing over the years, the crew chiefs and the crew members, who put in so much time and effort to give me competitive cars."

Rudd made his Cup debut in 1975 garnering 23 wins and 194 career top-five finishes. He makes his 786th consecutive start this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

"I especially want to thank the fans -- without them, none of this would be possible, and their support for this sport and for me have made it all very worthwhile and have kept me going for many years," Rudd said. "I feel their energy and support every time I am around them.

"But most of all, I want to thank my family, whose support and patience carried me when things were not quite as comfortable as they are today.

"I am especially grateful to my father, who passed away a few months ago, for his unconditional support and encouragement not only early on, but, throughout my career. His passing has been a very sad event in our lives, and I think it has contributed to my desire to take a little time off.

"I hope this clarifies things. I am not going far. I will be around."