Daytona Test II: Ford Racing Ricky Rudd interview

Ricky Rudd is at Daytona International Speedway, but he will not get behind the wheel of his No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus. Rudd had arthroscopic back surgery in early December and has decided to let Andy Hillenburg do the test driving this week...

Ricky Rudd is at Daytona International Speedway, but he will not get behind the wheel of his No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus. Rudd had arthroscopic back surgery in early December and has decided to let Andy Hillenburg do the test driving this week in preparation for next month's Daytona 500. Rudd spoke about his recovery and why the surgery was needed.

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus

HOW DO YOU FEEL? "I feel 100 percent, but I'm kind of following doctor's orders. He wanted me to stay off the race track as much as I could before the season gets cranked up and, hopefully, I won't ever have a recurrence of that injury. I'm just giving myself some time so I can be back in the car at Daytona."

YOU HEAR ABOUT ARTHROSCOPIC KNEE SURGERY ALL THE TIME, BUT NOT SO MUCH FOR THE BACK. WHAT WAS THE PROCEDURE LIKE? "It's sort of the same principle. There's a 10-mile long medical definition of what it is, but, basically, it's a small incision in your back and then they go in with a fiber optic microscope. In the old days, if you had this operation you'd probably have a six-inch slit in your back, but all I've got is about a half-inch scar. They still use hand tools, but it's all done by micro-surgery. The thing that sold me on this surgery was that when I walked in I was hurting, but four hours later I walked out and wasn't hurting. I had a little bit of muscle tightness, but I could have gotten in a race car that afternoon if I had to -- it felt that good."

DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU HURT IT? "No. I wish I could say I hit the fence or I wrecked and had an injury, but it wasn't that type of a deal. I just woke up one morning with a bad, bad backache and figured I just slept on it wrong. Well, six months later it was still there and wasn't getting any better. It was hard for me to straighten up. I found out that the most comfortable place to sleep was on a hardwood floor, so it was kind of awkward. It was time to get it fixed. The doctors had been watching it for about six months. They weren't cut happy, but it got to the point where I had to make a decision to either try and rehab it or get it cut. The surgery has a 93 percent success rate, so I decided to roll the dice. It really wasn't much of a dice roll, but it worked and I'm fortunate that it paid off."

WITHOUT TESTING HERE DO YOU FEEL YOU'LL BE BEHIND A BIT WHEN SPEEDWEEKS COME AROUND? "With no disrespect to Andy Hillenburg, I think he's one of the best there is at Daytona, but this isn't a place you can really warm up to. It's pretty uneventful here running laps by yourself. It's sort of a yawner. You're really not missing anything because it's not like it sharpens your skills. If I would get hurt anywhere, it would be a lack of testing at some of the shorter tracks or intermediate tracks. Hopefully, by the time we get through Daytona we'll be okay. Rockingham is a track I can run in my sleep because I've been around there so many times. I don't feel like we'll pay any price at all. I think getting me 100 percent healthy is a lot more important than being out there this week making laps."

WHAT ABOUT TESTING HERE IN GENERAL? "When I had my own car, these tracks weren't particularly kind to me for a long time so I hired Andy Hillenburg to do a lot of test driving. That's when we started qualifying on the front row, so he's got really good feedback. With that comes some other things like different body work and so on, but I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Andy Hillenburg. If I was concerned, I would be over there watching everything he did, but he's a tremendous test driver and tremendous race car driver. We're lucky we've got him." WERE YOU CONCERNED YOUR INJURY WOULDN'T HEAL AFTER THE SURGERY? "I had it for six months. It started in May and when the season ended it wasn't any worse, but it certainly wasn't any better. The difficult thing is that I probably could have lived with it for racing, even though it was pretty unbearable, but the worst thing of all is that I've got a seven-year-old at home. We like to go out and ride four-wheelers and do those kind of things dads do with their kids, and I couldn't do that. This was probably more of a decision so I could do those things as much as it was for racing."

Andy Hillenburg is substituting for Ricky Rudd during this week's test session. Hillenburg was the fastest Ford as he posted the 17th-fastest lap speed for the day. He spoke about subbing for Rudd and what he hopes to provide the 28 team this week.

ANDY HILLENBURG --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus

HOW DID IT GO TODAY? "Pretty good. I always knew I'd get to drive for Robert Yates at Daytona some day, it's just January instead of February. I had a pretty good day. They got a lot of information. My main job is to make sure they get a lot of information for different circumstances and try to help them so they can come down here and try to win the race in February."

IS IT AN HONOR TO HAVE ROBERT YATES CALL ON YOU? "Oh yeah. I have not driven very good equipment for quite a while now and it's pretty neat to be back in good stuff. I'm having a great time. It's great to be at Daytona and to be along with somebody like Robert and all of his guys is great."

YOU TESTED FOR RICKY WHEN HE WAS AN OWNER/DRIVER. "Yeah. I did a lot of work with Ricky before and he liked it, so when he talked to Robert about sitting out he said there was only one guy for the job. That makes you feel really good. Ricky has done a lot for my career when not a lot of people had at that point in time and I really appreciate it. I'm gonna do everything I can, if I'm not in this race, to make sure that Ricky Rudd and that 28 car does win it."

WHAT ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT THIS TRACK? "I love this race track. I've had a lot of success here and I've done a ton of testing here and have gotten to see a lot of different situations. I feel I know how to balance the race car out here. A lot of guys know how to do it, but I feel I can sub for guys and get them what they want. Testing for the IROC guys the last six years, you kind of work with a lot of different drivers trying to make them happy and I'm trying to make Ricky happy and fast."

YOU WERE THE FASTEST FORD TODAY. "I didn't know we were the fastest Ford. That's great, but I want to be the fastest car period. There's a lot of talk about the spoiler on the Ford and I'm not big enough to get into that, but is the spoiler too big? Yes, but it's too big on every car here."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Andy Hillenburg , Robert Yates