During the Raybestos Rookie of the Year press conference, which was held earlier today in the Lowe's Motor Speedway Infield Media Center, many of the candidates spoke about how some of what they learn is gained in the weekly rookie...
During the Raybestos Rookie of the Year press conference, which was held earlier today in the Lowe's Motor Speedway Infield Media Center, many of the candidates spoke about how some of what they learn is gained in the weekly rookie driver's meetings. The man who heads those meeting is Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus. He spoke about his role as instructor and what he tries to accomplish during each session.
RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- WHAT DO YOU TRY TO ACCOMPLISH WHEN YOU TALK TO THOSE GUYS EVERY WEEK? "I'm the Darlington Record Club president and with that comes the responsibility of working with NASCAR, Gary Nelson in particular, on handling the rookie meetings. I was the president back in '81 and it was a big difference back then. In '81 you had guys that were seeing a superspeedway for the first time, so it was a lot different and it was more of an instructor role. I'd say this day and time most everybody that gets here were either champions in the Busch Grand National circuit or champions in another form of racing, so when they get here they're already experienced they just need to know the flow of how things work in the Winston Cup area. It's really more of an informative thing, not to go out and tell them how to run the race track, but every race track has got its own peculiarities that are common only to those tracks. We kind of brief them on what to watch out for at different race tracks."
DO YOU PREPARE FOR THOSE MEETINGS OR IS IT ALL OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD?
"It's real informal and I kind of just wing it. Things as simple as working with your spotter, how to pull out onto pit road to make an attempt at a qualifying lap, how not to trust your spotter and how to look over your shoulder. I tell them that they've got the final responsibility to clear traffic and not to always trust their spotter on when to pull out. It's little things like when you finish your run, how to come off the race track without messing up somebody's else's lap. The Winston Cup format is different than other forms of racing, so once you get your run in during practice, I tell them how to come off turn two and to be alert that other guys are on the hammer and you don't want to mess their attempt up. At certain tracks you come in off the banking and at certain tracks you drive into pit road on the backstretch, so it's more of an informative thing and putting them in the driver's seat on what to look out for and the hazards of all the different race tracks."
ARE THEY GOOD, ATTENTIVE STUDENTS?
"Oh yeah. We had a lot of fun the other day. We came in here after Earnhardt, Jr. won The Winston and I said, 'We've got the wrong guy instructing. You're the instructor for the day.' Again, it's just helpful information. It's not to sit down there and tell them how to drive a race car because they know how to do that."
SCOTT PRUETT --32-- Tide Taurus -- "Ricky's been great and he's been a great person for the job, too. He's real open and real helpful, so with that comes that comfort to ask questions and get guidance. For a guy like myself who is so new to all of this just things like traffic flow in and out of the garage, getting around the track, stuff that is totally foreign to me as to how I used to do it is invaluable. He'll talk about peculiarities with the track that might get you in trouble or keep you in a good way. I think Ricky's done a great job. As a rookie you're so caught up with all these different pieces that sometimes you might lose focus on some of the basics."
STACY COMPTON --9-- Kodiak/Cougar Taurus -- "The biggest thing that the rookie meetings do for us is they give us just simple things like the direction through the garage. A lot of the places we go the rotation through the garage makes a big difference. I mean, if you pull out of the garage and go the wrong direction, you've got 30 cars coming at you. Stuff like that makes a big difference. Ricky can also give us some insight here. He'll say stuff like, 'If you go off into three there are some bumps here and some bumps there. The car is gonna feel this way or your car is gonna bottom out, but don't panic when it bottoms out, the car's not gonna move.' It's just that experience level, so when we go out the first time we're sort of expecting the bumps down in three and four because Ricky's already told us that they're there. Ricky will sit down, and I'm sure he'll look at his notes before he comes to the rookie meeting, and says, 'OK, the track has a tendency of really tightening up off of four,' or, like at Darlington he said, 'You need to be single file when you come off of two. If you're too wide when you come off of two, you're gonna wreck, so try your best to be single file.' Things like that have sped up my learning curve and kept us from pulling out a backup from doing something stupid. You learn. The first time out there you learn, but with Ricky giving us some insight, a lot of times you don't have to learn the hard way."
AT WHAT POINT DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE ON THE TRACK WHEN YOU GO FOR THE FIRST TIME?
"For me, our goal this year is to go out and run a complete race, so when we come back the second time we'll be comfortable there. I think to get really comfortable at these places you need three, four, five times out. Now, you can get comfortable enough in three, four or five laps to make a qualifying run, but every time you go out you learn something different about what the track is gonna give you. Every lap that I run in a race I'll learn something a little bit different or I'll feel some different bumps. To me, I think you need a couple times there before you really get to where you feel comfortable and you know what the track can give you, what the track is gonna do and how the track is gonna change. This place changes dramatically from night to day and we as rookies don't have a clue how much it's gonna change. We don't know how to adjust to that. Being a single-car team it's a little tougher because we don't have some of the guys that have been there, done that. We don't have the Ward Burton's that have been there. He knows at night time the track is really gonna tighten up or the track is really gonna loosen up, so it takes a couple trips there to get your notes to where you can feel comfortable enough to run a race."
ED BERRIER --90-- Hills Brothers Coffee Taurus -- "Ricky tells us about the race track and things like getting in and out of the pits -- where you're supposed to come in and where you're supposed to go out -- or what sticker tires feel like. It's basically just how to run the race track and how he remembers it from the last time he was there."
DOES THAT GIVE YOU A BETTER MINDSET FOR THE WEEKEND?
"Yeah, I mean, you've been to some of these tracks in a Busch car before and then you come here in a Cup car and it's like a whole different package -- you've got to drive it a little bit different. It kind of gets you thinking in the right direction and it settles your mind a little bit about whether or not you're supposed to be doing this or doing that. It helps out a lot."
DARRELL WALTRIP --66-- Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus -- "I just wish one weekend, just one weekend, just for an experiment, just for fun, make everybody out of the top 25 qualify over and see what happens. Just for fun, just for kicks."
THERE WAS BASICALLY NO SHOT TODAY, RIGHT?
"No, you don't ever have (a shot). Just check the record. For the last probably two years, one car max gets in every now and then and that's somebody who maybe screwed up and they got a shot. The best example I can give you is Dale Jarrett at Darlington last year. He had a car that was gonna sit on the pole and he spun out qualifying and started 36th and barely made the top 36. It can't be done and you just waste your time and money and energy working your people to death hoping. It can't be done."
THIS ONE HURTS, DOESN'T IT -- MISSING THE 600?
"Oh yeah. We're working on some things. Maybe somebody needs a driver. Maybe that'll work out for me, I hope. There are a couple of possibilities there."
ROBBY GORDON --13-- Burger King/Turtle Wax Taurus -- ARE YOU TIRED? "No, I'm not tired at all actually. I got a really good night's sleep, I got about eight hours last night. I didn't even wake up until 9 o'clock this morning, so that was nice. We flew to Indy last night and then got to bed around 1 o'clock or something like that."
HOW DID CARBURETION DAY GO TODAY AT INDY?
"Carburetion Day was pretty good. As far as Indy car goes, we had a problem and that's a good thing. I mean, today is the day I want to have a problem. We had a fuel leak problem almost identical to 1997 when we caught on fire, so we were able to seal the leak and repair the leak. I've already talked to the guys and they've fixed the leak and re-pressured the tank so we're all good now. That just shows you, those are the same guys that did it in '97 and they're pretty picky on how they put things together now and we had a problem again. So that's one thing nice about Carburetion Day is we're able to learn from mistakes we've had in the past and prepare for it."
HOW WAS IT HERE IN CHARLOTTE TODAY?
"I made it back for the end of the first practice, which was our goal. John's plane boogies. (John Menard's plane) It's a Citation 10 and we flew here in 40 minutes from Indianapolis. I was here about 40 minutes before the session and with 30 minutes to go I was suited up and I drove 18 laps, 15 laps, something close to that and we are able now to say, 'OK, this is where we're at with our race setup.' One thing that happens and what we've learned is that I've been in this situation before. I learned this lesson at Martinsville, where I actually lost a car there in a situation like this. We were quick enough, but I messed up in qualifying. So then I said, 'You know what, let's go second round.' Well, what happens is you run that race last night, you run Busch practice and qualifying today, you run two hours of Cup practice, the track just slows down. It's just really hard to go faster, so this is one reason why I think they should just eliminate Friday altogether and just come in and race Saturday and Sunday. Everybody would qualify one round. It is what it is because nobody really goes faster in second round, so with them wanting to add another two races to the schedule, that would be the logical thing to do to get us some days back."
DID YOU HAVE THE POINTS SITUATION FIGURED OUT ALREADY FROM A PROVISIONAL STANDPOINT?
"We've actually written a software program for it, which is something we were able to do from our Indy car program. What we do is plug in owner's points and the grid for the day and when you put it in it tells you who is getting provisional one, two, three, four and five. For us yesterday we were in pretty good shape actually because if you look at the people that had to go faster than us, that we figured would try to re-qualify, three cars had to go faster and make it into the field for us to get bumped because when one car went faster that bumped Carl Long, which still gave us two positions in provisionals. As that went on that made it tougher. I think it's great that Carl made the show. I mean, it's a competitive series, it really is. He did a better job than we did. He ran faster than we did and got in the show on time, so that's great."
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE NOT TO QUALIFY? "We knew last night."