Daytona II: Ricky Rudd preview

RICKY RUDD: "The racing [at Daytona in July], to me, is just as good or the same, but not with all the responsibilities and pressures that go along with the 500." Ricky Rudd, driver of the ...

RICKY RUDD: "The racing [at Daytona in July], to me, is just as good or the same, but not with all the responsibilities and pressures that go along with the 500."

Ricky Rudd, driver of the #21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Ford Taurus, answers his fans' questions this week about racing at Daytona, the complexities of the "lucky dog" award and the feel of speed while on the race track. .

Which are you more comfortable running in Daytona - the first race of the season or the summer race?

"I enjoy the summer race, always have, even when it was run in the daytime. It used to be that was sort of the team's informal vacation. Team members would bring their wives and kids. Of course, I don't think it is quite the same now with the schedule. It was a long weekend then, so the schedule has changed the complexion a little bit. The summer race is a lot more laid back, a lot less intense. The racing, to me, is just as good or the same, but not with all the responsibilities and pressures that go along with the 500."

What car will you be taken for the Pepsi 400?

"I don't know. The body on the car we ran at Talladega was destroyed, and that is where all the speed is. So, I don't know what car we are taking. I think we've got two good speedway cars, so probably not the one we had at Talladega, but I'm not sure."

With the way the softer tires have been acting up on the tracks lately, will the set-up for the Daytona race be more conservative?

"Daytona is a track where traditionally you don't tear tires up. I cut a tire or blew a tire in the Daytona 500 this year, and that's what knocked us out, but it wasn't the same as the blistering and tearing up the outside edges that we've seen lately. Daytona is a track where you don't run excessive front-end settings. You look a lot for low drag, low speed so a lot of the camber settings that are used at other tracks are backed way up at Daytona because you don't want your tires sticking outside of your body. If you tried to run a lot of those settings we've been running, the car wouldn't go very fast because the tires would be sticking outside of the body on the left side and the left front would be sticking out in the air. You'd have to build a big fender because the tire gets leaned out at the top on the left front, and it would take such a big fender to cover it up you would lose tremendous straightaway speed. So, you don't run the aggressive settings and the tire is just not an issue there. I'm not saying it won't be this time. Who knows? Tires didn't used to be an issue at Pocono, either."

Are the compounds not different now?

"I don't quite understand what happened over the winter. NASCAR came up with the philosophy that they needed to take downforce out of the cars, which is understandable. But, at the same time they did that, Goodyear was told that it had to build a faster, softer tire and there is where the problem lies. The pressure was put back on Goodyear to make up for the lack of downforce on the cars and the cars virtually drive very similar to what they did last year. There isn't much difference, so I don't understand what was gained. Any time you build a softer tire there is less insurance built into the tire. By that I mean, if a team misses the set-up a little bit, the tires last year could just soak it up. They could take it. The tire this year, because of the lack of downforce, has to stick better and there is less margin for error in chassis set-up. And if you miss it, you tear tires up. That is something we didn't have to deal with a year ago. It kind of reminds me of when Hoosier and Goodyear were fighting with each other and each company had to build tires with maximum performance because people in the garage had a choice, and they are going to go with the faster tire. So they took that room for insurance out of the tires now. After that war was over, then Goodyear put, say, a 10-percent margin back into the car. Now, in my opinion, the insurance margin is almost zero, so if the set-up gets too aggressive you are going to tear up a tire, and a lot of times it doesn't show up until race day."

What's the highest speed you've ever gone on a race track?

"I'm guessing 208, 210, something like that." Do you feel it? "It's all sort of relative to me. The track where it feels like you are going faster than any other is Bristol, and top speed is probably only 140, 150 there. The sensation of speed to me is greater there than anywhere else we run. Your big tracks, like your Daytona's and Talladega's at 190 and 195, you feel like you are crawling around there. Dover is one of those tracks that fit in the Bristol category. Texas, there is a big sensation of speed at Texas - not necessarily straightaway speed, but corner speed."

The "lucky dog" rule seems confusing.  The first car one lap gets to move
up.  What about the first car two laps down and so on?

"Cars two laps don't move up until all the cars that have been one lap down have moved back up into the lead lap. If you've got one car one lap down and several two laps down, once the car one lap down moves up then the first car two laps down can move up the next time there is an opportunity. It can be a little complex sometimes, a little difficult to follow. If the car that is designated to receive the 'lucky dog' award is involved in the accident or spins to bring out the yellow, then he doesn't get the 'lucky dog' award and neither does anyone else. Nobody gets it at that particular time, and that is where it gets confusing."

Where did you attend high school?

"Indian River High School in Chesapeake (Va.)."

Will you ever move back to the Tidewater area?

"I don't know. Because of the schedule and stuff over the years it just made sense to move to the Charlotte area. We haven't decided that. We kept the house there for a long time because we thought when I was through driving we'd move back. Then we bought the race team, so we committed to the Charlotte area. We really haven't ruled it out."

Who influenced you while growing up?

"I'd have to say my dad as far as racing goes. In my early days of racing, go-kart racing and so on, he was there and when we first went Cup racing. If it wasn't for him we never would have been able to get started in it. So I'd say my dad. He was a local racer before I was born."

Has your fan base increased with the Air Force connection?

"Oh yeah, I think it definitely has. We've met a lot of men and women throughout the country that are in the Air Force. And the three or four times a year we roll out the Air Force cars, like last weekend at Sonoma, the people in the Air Force have something to identify with. It's been a real positive for us."


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Series NASCAR Cup