Charlotte: Rudd ready for "Iron Man" record

Rudd primed to set NASCAR all-time 'Iron Man' record at Coca-Cola. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 22, 2002) - At the time, Ricky Rudd's 88th career NASCAR Winston Cup start that came in the 1981 season opener at Riverside (Calif.) International...

Rudd primed to set NASCAR all-time 'Iron Man' record at Coca-Cola.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 22, 2002) - At the time, Ricky Rudd's 88th career NASCAR Winston Cup start that came in the 1981 season opener at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway carried major significance for the career survival of the talented 24-year-old driver.

After competing in four of the previous six seasons, including 1980, with his father Al as the team owner, Rudd finally had landed a fulltime, fully sponsored (DiGard-Gatorade) ride with owner Bill Gardner for the 1981 season. That day - in which he started third and finished 19th - was more about proving himself to the stock-car masses that he belonged in the premier series in a top-flight ride and could succeed.

Little could he fathom that day would be the start of the longest streak in NASCAR history that would showcase his durability and success in the sport.

Rudd (No. 28 Havoline Ford), the 45-year-old Virginia-born veteran in his 28th year of competition, is preparing for his 656th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series career start. In Sunday's Coca-Cola Racing Family 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX), he will establish a NASCAR all-time record. Rudd currently is tied for the mark at 655 consecutive career starts with Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet).

"[The streak] shows determination and dedication," Rudd said."It has come naturally and I have not done anything out of the ordinary. Maybe a couple times I was hurt and not 100 percent and maybe 100 percent of the people would not have run, but way back then I was not even thinking about this' Iron Man' thing. But every weekend since 1981, I have been giving 120 percent."

Coincidentally, both streaks started at the now-defunct Riverside track albeit two years apart. Labonte's streak began on Jan. 14 1979, Rudd's on Jan. 11, 1981. Labonte's streak came to an end in 2000 when injuries sustained in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July eventually forced him to sit out the Brickyard 400 scheduled for Aug. 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ironically, incidents in two non-points all-star events nearly brought Rudd's"Iron Man" streak to an end. The first came at the 1984 Busch Clash - now known as the Bud Shootout - when he was involved in an accident in which he sustained torn cartilage in his rib cage. He needed to wear a flak jacket to ease the pain for the following week's Daytona 500. The other accident came in The Winston in 1988, causing an injury to his medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

"In the Bud Shootout, I wrecked with about six laps to go and spent the night in the hospital with torn cartilage in my rib cage. With that injury, I was probably in more severe pain than ever before," Rudd said."In The Winston, I tore ligaments and the doctors at first wanted to operate and I would have been out six weeks. I went to see [noted motorsports specialist] Dr. [Terry] Trammell in Indianapolis and he had me do a heavy workout routine and wear a knee brace instead."

Rudd's streak, however, may never have started had it not been for a one-race performance the previous year that landed him a full-time ride that kick-started his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career. Rudd ran the October race at Charlotte in 1980 and turned in what possibly was a career-saving performance. Without any testing, he stepped into the No. 22 LYF-TMY Building Supply Chevrolet, qualified on the outside pole and finished fourth.

"Prior to that race, we ran a limited schedule with our family's car. We were about finished - out of money, out of time and just about out of racing," said Rudd, the 1977 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. "That Monday morning, the phone was ringing off the hook. Everyone wanted me to drive for them. I went from nothing to nearly everything."

Rudd has since enjoyed a successful and prosperous career that includes 22 victories, 27 pole positions and nearly $26 million in career earnings. He also shares another NASCAR durability record - this one with Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) - with 16 consecutive seasons with a victory. Since earning his first career triumph at the 1983 Riverside race, he has won at least once every year through 1998.

"I knew at a young age - about nine or 10 years old - when other kids were thinking about being a policeman or a fireman my goal was to be a professional race car driver, not just being one but being one of the best," Rudd said."My family never told me it was an impossible goal and fortunately I was able to make it."

Rudd, currently 10th in the NASCAR Winston Cup points race, is seeking his first victory of this season. His season-best performance through the first 11 events is third, which he established at Bristol and matched at California Speedway.

Rudd will make his 52nd start at Lowe's Motor Speedway - where he has a career-best finish of third (Oct. 2000, Oct. 1981) - and he believes it is fitting the record will be set at this venue.

"I've been in the Charlotte area for 15 to 20 years so it is sort of my hometown track," Rudd said."It's kind of odd that the record is about enduring throughout the years and being there week in and week out... and Charlotte is known for a grueling and physical race. It's unique and favors what the record is all about (endurance)."

TOP 10 NASCAR' IRON MAN" STREAKS

Driver Races Start End

1. Ricky Rudd 655 Jan. 11, 1981 Current

Terry Labonte 655 Jan. 14, 1979 Aug. 5, 2000

3. Dale Earnhardt 648 Sept. 9, 1979 Feb. 25, 2001

4. Rusty Wallace 564 Feb. 19, 1984 Current

5. Ken Schrader 534 Feb. 17, 1985 Current

6. Richard Petty 513 Nov. 14, 1971 March 19, 1989

7. Mark Martin 448 Feb. 14, 1988 Current

8. Darrell Waltrip 431 Jan. 18, 1976 June 24, 1990

9. Michael Waltrip 421 Feb. 23, 1986 Oct. 17, 1998

10. Bill Elliott 395 Oct. 31, 1982 April 28, 1996

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Richard Petty , Mark Martin