Bliss replaces Ruttman at Roush Racing By Brett Borden

LIVONIA, Mich. (Dec. 18, 1998) Joe Ruttman, who finished third in the point standings in each of the past two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series seasons, has been let go by Roush Racing as driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford and replaced by fellow NCTS veteran Mike Bliss. Bliss finished 10th in the standings this past season driving the No. 2 Team ASE/Ultra Motorsports Ford. He has won at least one event each of the four years the series has been in existence. "We expect Mike to make a tremendous contribution to our truck program," said team owner Jack Roush. "He has enough experience and talent to get into the No. 99 and be competitive immediately. He's been one of the most competitive drivers on the series and we're happy to have him join our team. We believe he and Greg Biffle will work well together." Biffle drives a second Roush truck, the No. 50 Grainger Racing Ford. Both he and Bliss won four Bud Pole Awards last season on the circuit. Bliss, who has 76 NCTS starts and five victories, said the call from Roush was an early Christmas present for someone who was half-expecting a lump of coal in his stocking. He was even contemplating taking a part-time ride in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League before he got the call from Roush. "I'm excited about it," he said. "I was kind of thinking I wasn't going to get anything. I guess that sign at the banquet worked." Bliss put a "For Hire" sign on the podium during his series awards banquet speech. He believes it may have gotten him a championship ride. "I think so," he said. "That's their outlook, and I think I've learned enough in the truck series to do what they expect of me. Last year we kind of fell out of the championship race early and I was racing for the win every time instead of making sure a third or fourth-place truck finished that way." The 54-year-old Ruttman, who has driven a wide variety of cars and trucks in a lengthy career, highlighted by third place finishes in the 1982 and 1991 Daytona 500, is now in a race to find another ride. He said the change came as a surprise to him. "I guess disappointed is probably the biggest (emotion)," he said. "It wasn't expected. You know, it's the 12th hour as far as next year is concerned. The thing I'd like to get out is that 'Hey, I wanna race.'" Ruttman is now in the position that Bliss was in before Thursday. He put his own "For Hire" sign out for team owners Friday. "I feel like I'm just starting right now," Ruttman said. "As you get older you say 'This is a neat deal and I better bear down and do it right.' When you're younger you kind of think you are going to drive forever. When you're an old guy like me you don't have as many distractions." Asked whether he could still win a championship, Ruttman, who has eight career series wins, 42 top-five finishes and 70 top-10s in 97 starts, said he thinks he can. "Based on performance, I'm in the ballpark," he said. "I've had good equipment. The guys I've had working with me have been great. The only thing I can do is carry the momentum from my last team to the next." Ruttman said he didn't anticipate the move, so he hasn't kept abreast of the sport's rumor mill for other job openings. He'd like to stay in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but is open to other possibilities. "I wouldn't turn my back on any direction," he said. "If you have a trade you don't ever want to just sit back or you won't get any better. I want to be out there practicing my trade. "Race drivers have to be able to bounce back. If you have a bad race you can't let it tear you down. This is something like that. Maybe what it's done is create a new challenge for me."

Source: NASCAR Online