Joe Ruttman Still Gets the Job Done

Ruttman can still get it done By Shawn A. Akers SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 10, 1998) Joe Ruttman doesn't mince words when talking about his age. He'll always make himself the butt of the joke when it comes to that subject. But as the veteran...

Ruttman can still get it done By Shawn A. Akers SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 10, 1998) Joe Ruttman doesn't mince words when talking about his age. He'll always make himself the butt of the joke when it comes to that subject. But as the veteran driver enters his mid-50s, the joke is on the competition. At the age of 54, Ruttman is still one of the top contenders in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and he showed no signs this past season of slowing down. The driver of Jack Roush's No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford saw his win total decrease from five in 1997 to one in 1998, but he still managed 19 top-10 and 14 top-five finishes in 27 starts, and finished third for the second straight year in the overall point standings. And although the battle for the series championship was largely a two-horse race between Ron Hornaday and Jack Sprague, Ruttman kept himself in contention for the title throughout most of the season. He finished 195 points behind Sprague for second place, and only 198 points behind Hornaday for the championship. As a result, Ruttman will once again be one of the 10 drivers to appear on stage this Friday night at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series post-season awards banquet. "It was really not a bad year, but it was kind of disappointing because we didn't win too many races," Ruttman said. "We really had hoped to get to Victory Lane more times than we did, but at my age, I guess you have to take 'em when you get 'em. "We'll take third this year and hope to get up with those guys (Hornaday and Sprague) next year. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but if you can get the two top dogs fighting with each other, the old dog might sneak in and get the bone." In addition to his one win (at Watkins Glen), Ruttman finished second twice and third four times, proving he can still be a contender to win races at one of NASCAR's highest levels. The first indication of that came in the season-opening Chevy Trucks Challenge at Walt Disney World Speedway. Ruttman battled Hornaday for the win at Disney, coming up just 0.211-second short. Ruttman earned three more top-10s in the next five races. Next up was the Parts America 150 on the road course at Watkins Glen International. Hornaday appeared on his way to victory, but was black-flagged for jumping a restart late in the race, making way for Ruttman to take the win by 1.288 seconds over Jay Sauter. "I was just waiting for him (Hornaday) to jump the flag, and I knew I was going to win," Ruttman said after the race. "It just all came to me. Really, I couldn't have caught him. I don't know what we could have done. We just got lucky. Although he never got back to Victory Lane in '98, Ruttman was extremely consistent, scoring seven top-five finishes in his next nine events. He finished the season with three more top-10s in his final four races, slipping up only at Mesa Marin Raceway, where he came home 13th.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR-TRUCK