Daytona 500: Ford, Ricky Rudd day one practice interview

February 8, 2002 Daytona International Speedway Practice, day one Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Havoline Taurus, was the fastest Ford in practice today. Rudd was fourth-fastest in the morning session and second in the afternoon. Today...

February 8, 2002
Daytona International Speedway
Practice, day one

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Havoline Taurus, was the fastest Ford in practice today. Rudd was fourth-fastest in the morning session and second in the afternoon. Today marked the first time Rudd had been back behind the wheel of his Ford since undergoing off-season back surgery.

RICKY RUDD --28-- Havoline Taurus

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TOMORROW AND THE WORK DONE TO THIS POINT? "I definitely don't need to take any credit for it because Andy Hillenburg has been here doing all the driving. They've been over to Talladega using an extra test to try and get ready. This car we've got here, I think they built it in six, seven or eight days, something like that, something unheard of, so it's going pretty good. We're still chasing some Chevrolets around here, but we're pretty happy."

HOW WAS IT TO GET BACK IN THE CAR AFTER BACK SURGERY? "It felt good. It's kind of like riding a bicycle really. I mean, you never really forget a whole lot, especially like Daytona. It's not like things have changed a lot since the last time I got in a car here. I felt pretty comfortable really. I didn't feel like I really needed a big tune-up, but you've got to give Andy Hillenburg credit. He's done a great job. He's got this car driving really well so far for the 500 and the Shootout. That's kind of made my job easy. Of course, all these guys and the effort they put into these race cars, they've worked really hard to try and overcome some of the deficit in the rules."

DOES THE BACK FEEL AS GOOD AS NEW? "Yeah, as a matter of fact it feels real good. I get asked that question a lot. Fatback asked me a while ago when I got out of the car how my back feels and Robert happened to be walking up about that time and I yelled to him, 'You ready to wrestle?' I was kind of joking with him, so it feels great. It feels 100 percent."

WITH THESE RULES THE YATES CARS WERE GREAT IN 2000. DOES THAT GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE OR DO THE OTHER MAKES HAVE AN ADVANTAGE? "It's definitely different now. The Yates teams were pretty strong with the old rules. This is similar to the old rules more than the most recent rules, but after what I saw in the Bud Shootout practice, it doesn't really seem to make a lot of difference because everybody is the same speed. The biggest difference from the old rules is you don't get that tremendous closure rate from the cars around you. I think it's gonna make for a safer race because you'll still pass cars, but you don't get that 20 mile an hour burst of speed all of a sudden. You don't have to jump on the brake pedal to keep from running over the guy in front of you. We're not seeing that. I'll be honest, I don't see where it's gonna be an advantage for us. I'd love to be able to sit here and talk about how great the Yates team is and how they've given us a big advantage here, but from what I'm seeing in race trim, these cars look to be fairly even from what I've seen so far."

WILL YOU BE ABLE TO PASS? "We saw some passing a while ago. I don't think you're gonna see the last place guy being able to keep up with the first place car. I think you're still gonna see passing, but it seems like some cars can pass and some cars can't, so I haven't really seen a pattern to it yet. I do know you won't see the tremendous amount of closure rate like we used to see. I think when the drivers started complaining, it wasn't about the cars running nose to tail and bumper to bumper as much as the big difference in speed. I think you'll see the drivers a little happier and, hopefully, you won't notice any difference other than the fact that things happen at a little bit calmer place."

DOES IT FEEL LIKE THE SAME OLD THING CHASING THE HENDRICK CARS? "I don't know if it's the Hendrick cars or chasing Chevrolets. It seems like the last couple of years down here the rules have been very kind to the Chevrolets and Dodges for that matter. It seems like we're a little closer to them than we have been. I know the last time down here I don't think we even qualified in the top 20. So, this particular time I don't predict a front row position, but I see maybe a fifth through 10th position. That's better than a 20th last year and I feel confident we're gonna be one of the best Fords -- not necessarily the best because Dale Jarrett is right there with us and there might be another one out there that we're not sure about, but I don't know that you're gonna have a Ford in the top 10. We'll just have to wait and see.

"When it comes time to run -- I watched Ward Burton a while ago -- he goes out and only runs one lap and his second lap is probably gonna be three or four tenths of a second faster. I don't think we've seen everything from the competition. We're pretty much all out. This is all we've got here for us."

WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE TIME OFF? "I kind of said it jokingly, but to be honest with you the surgery, as far as it being scheduled probably came at a perfect time. This is probably the best winter I can remember where you're not being pulled in this direction and pulled in that direction. The next thing you know, it's time to go racing again and you never got a mental break. This time, I was kind of forced by doctor's orders to take a break and, just like anybody in the garage area, that little break is like a little medicine in itself. There are probably two thought processes. One, you've been out of a race car for two months, is that gonna handicap you? But from what I've seen so far, it's like riding a bike. I haven't felt uncomfortable at all. Heck, we were running out there a while ago and I saw Geoff Bodine. I hadn't seen Geoff Bodine in a race car in a long time and he's out there leading the pack, so I don't know how much practice you really need to come here for Daytona. But the mental rest for me was tremendous. I didn't realize the stress you go through running for a championship during the season, but at the end of the year being able to take a rest was real nice."

DID YOU GET STIR CRAZY LIKE MARK MARTIN? "Mark, I think, his deal was a little different. I thought we had the same operation, but his was different. His was a more serious operation than I had. He actually had discs fused together -- tied and wired together and stuff like that. I think his scar is a little bit longer than mine and I think that's the trick. My scar is only about a half-inch long. From what I understand from my doctor, the longer that scar is the more chance you're gonna have problems down the rode. The procedure I had has only been out about two years, so I guess to good side of having your back screwed up is that it happened when technology is able to handle it right now. Mark's was a little different. I had to lay off pretty hard for two weeks, but then I could do a lot of things. I still couldn't get aggressive. I couldn't work out, I couldn't ride motorcycles or dirt bikes or four wheelers and I still haven't been able to do that yet. So, again, I don't think I was out of commission like Mark. I can see him going stir crazy if he was on his back, but I didn't have to do that."

HOW HARD IS IT TO DEPEND ON HELP FOR THIS RACE? "I think everybody would love to be in a position of independence where you don't have to depend on anybody, but, unfortunately, with this type of racing it doesn't really work that way. Again, you need some help. You need some drafting partners and you sort of make some friends along the way and you make a few enemies along the way as the day progresses. You try to make as many friends as you can and not make too many of them mad, but there just come some circumstances where you have to get back in line if you don't want to go all the way to the back again. It's pretty much accepted. Everybody kind of knows the deal. You use everybody and anybody that you can, but you also have to understand that at anytime that person that is working with you can leave you out hanging. There's no use getting mad about it, that's just the way it works."

DID THE TIME OFF REJUVENATE YOU? "Yeah. Heck, I'm not a teenager anymore and with the grind of the season it just wears and tears. It's not the racing, it's all the other commitments and responsibility that comes with any race team. There are media things you have to do and sponsorship commitments and appearances. As sponsorship dollars continue to increase there's more and more demands on the driver's time. There are so many things that you end up doing that aren't race track related that wear me down worse than driving the race car. To me, the race car part is simple, that's easy, it's all the other responsibilities that come with professional racing today. I'm not so sure it's the 38-race schedule we run as much as it is all the other things combined with a 38-race schedule. It wears you down, so, basically, I was able to take a nice rest without anybody getting mad at me too much, so it worked out pretty sweet."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Andy Hillenburg