Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, is in his first season behind the wheel for the legendary Wood Brothers after three successive top-10 points finishes with Robert Yates Racing. Rudd discussed his change of scenery and how...
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, is in his first season behind the wheel for the legendary Wood Brothers after three successive top-10 points finishes with Robert Yates Racing. Rudd discussed his change of scenery and how things have gone so far in testing.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus:
YOU'VE MADE SOME GAINS SINCE TESTING STARTED. "Yeah, these guys have done good. Everybody on the team has really pulled together. They're sort of amazing guys. They built five race cars to come to Daytona and we were lucky, we had a test about three weeks ago to try and learn some things, but they purposely built five cars and every one of them was purposely built different than the other one. So we can kind of hone in on what's good and what's not good because it's really new to everybody. The new templates, the bigger spoilers on the back of the car, it's quite a bit different for everybody, so what worked last year doesn't necessarily work this year."
WHAT ABOUT THE 500 AND THE SEASON? "I think if you look at the history of qualifying for the Wood Brothers, it hasn't been one of their strong suits at Daytona. But you look at the race results, and they put a lot of effort in the race results and tend to sometimes sacrifice qualifying. That's a smart thing to do. If I had a choice of qualifying good and run poorly in the race or qualify poorly and run good in the race, I'd rather have it that way and that's sort of the way they work. They put in an effort for qualifying, but nothing like they do for the race. The history of their cars have always run very well here, so I'm looking forward to it. I had a lot of fun at Talladega. We finished third the last Talladega race. I feel like I've been out here 100 years, but I feel like you're always learning a little something different and I was real happy with the way Talladega went for us. I'm kind of anxious to see what happens at Daytona."
ARE THINGS BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT WITH THE 21? "I guess probably the best way to put it in perspective is that it's a team that's sort of a sleeper. It's over here on the side and no one is probably paying much attention to it, but there's a tremendous amount of talent there in that shop. They go after things very, very hard and very, very aggressively. After getting in there and talking to guys like Leonard Wood. Leonard is over here on the side and he's not a high publicity-type guy. You don't see that much of him and even though officially he doesn't have an engineering degree, his engineering knowledge is tremendous. I mean, it's just an encyclopedia walking around there. Pat Tryson has done a super job. When we get back, everyone is talking very proudly and very happy with their new teams, but I looked at what they have to work with there. With the involvement of Ford Motor Company and it's stepped up program - they've got a 40 percent wind tunnel model program going right now, so the team is coming along. It's not that it was bad, but it's getting even better as we speak."
DURING THE OFF-SEASON DID YOU LOOK BACK AT HOW 2002 TRANSPIRED? "I think it was crazy when you look back at it. In some ways, maybe I could have controlled it a little bit. We had something that was working. Usually teams fall apart when they're not doing well and they're having troubles performing. What was the hardest pill to swallow was that team, as a group, performed very well the first two years. We were top five in the points and won some races and, usually, you don't have trouble keeping a team like that together. There are many different reasons why, I guess, it came apart at the seams. I was still trying to hold on probably beyond the time, trying to keep it together. I sort of knew that Elliott was coming over there for quite some time. Robert denied it and so on and so on. It looked like there might be three teams and, in hindsight, I'm not a quitter. I didn't want to give up, especially when we had a championship season shaping up. We were actually mathematically a contender until October, so those chances don't come around that often in one's career. I can count on one hand how many opportunities I've had to get down to the three-quarter mark or late in the season and still have a shot mathematically at winning the championship. So I didn't want to throw that away.
"I probably held in there trying to keep that team together maybe longer than I should have. That tended to create, I guess, something where this thing looked like a dragged out process. If I had my preference, none of that would have been in the paper at all. It would have been behind closed doors, but it seems like there are quite a few leaks around the management at Robert Yates Racing. There's no such thing as keeping things quiet over there, so, unfortunately, all the dirty laundry was aired out in public. All of these teams have dirty laundry, but usually it's not aired in public. That's something where if you look back through my history, I'm not real proud of that but there's nothing I could do to control it."
WITH EVERYTHING GOING ON AT THE WOOD BROTHERS, CAN YOU THINK ABOUT A CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR? "I hate to really speak championship contender because it's year one with our association. I will say this, I don't think it's gonna be a very steep learning curve to get used to working with one another. One of the main reasons is that Pat Tryson and I worked together on chassis way back in the mid to late nineties, so that communication is still there. When I'm talking loose, he understands what I mean. When I say a little bit loose, he knows my interpretation of it. So I don't think the learning curve is gonna be anywhere near as steep as a lot of guys experience. By the same token, the team was 25th in points. I see no reason why a top 10 in the points should be out of reach. If things go good and we don't have too many mechanical problems along the way, a top five is well within reach. A championship might be a little bit of a stretch, but, again, with the way the season went it was very unusual. If you can get out there and post consistent top fives and top 10s, you're gonna win the championship if you can eliminate DNFs. That's what we're gonna work on. We're gonna get some consistency going. Predicting championships is probably a little far-fetched for year one, but not so much for year two."
HOW IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ELLIOTT SADLER? "Elliott's a good guy. I like Elliott. He made changes and thought he bettered himself in his career. There are no hard feelings there. The only hard feelings, I guess, is that I hate to see the fact that I put Robert Yates up here on this high pedestal and I basically saw, I wouldn't say him throw the championship away, but he didn't really do anything to prevent it from happening. I lost a little bit of respect in that manner, but as far as against Elliott and that team, a lot of those guys over there are guys that I brought with me. I'm gonna miss some of those guys for certain, but as far as a direct comparison to me, that's a chapter behind me. There's nothing I can do to control how they run and there's nothing they can do to control how we're running. Each one of us have got to run our own programs. Robert has made big changes. They never had a manager on the 28 team and, obviously, they've brought Doug Yates in and that's a big plus. They're doing a lot of things that needed to happen, that should have happened two years ago and they wouldn't do it, so they're doing some smart things and I think you'll see better results and better consistency. They brought Shawn Parker in over there, who is brilliant on chassis, to complement Raymond Fox. That combination is gonna work pretty good as long as those two guys can get along. But I can't control what they do and they can't control what I do. We've got to race our own programs, but as far as direct comparisons, I'm not gonna do it. Maybe the media might do it, but I try to block that out."
COMPARISONS ARE KIND OF INEVITABLE AREN'T THEY? "It will probably happen, but I think Robert's probably worried about it worse than I am. He spent a lot of money getting geared up for this year so he wouldn't be embarrassed and he made some smart changes. He made some smart changes that are gonna improve his team."
HOW IS YOUR BACK? "Last year I went into the season very healthy. There was a big question mark whether the back operation would hold out or was it one of those deals where it would blow out again? So there were a lot of unknowns. I've got a year under my belt knowing that this operation I had was not only successful short-term, but it holds up long-term. That's not even an issue.
"It really wasn't an issue last year, other than the unknown and I've got a year of pretty hard racing under my belt and a couple crashes along the way to test it unfortunately. But the back is real healthy right now, so that's not even really an issue I don't think."
ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED NOT TO SEE A 28 CAR OUT THERE? "I think there are a lot of people disappointed with it. That team and that car, especially that car, it had a tremendous following. The 28 number is sort of gone and Texaco is gone. I think you'll probably see that 28 re-appear maybe as early as next year. I'm not gonna go into a lot of detail, but it's kind of being shoved over here on the side. It's probably gonna be Robert's number again, it's just being warehoused for a year."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "I don't know. I never really thought about it. That's not my number. I look at 28 and I think, 'That's Davey Allison.' Ernie Irvan, that's what I think of. It's sort of sad for their fans not to be able to see that 28 run around the race track. There's still a tremendous amount of loyalty and fan support for those guys. I feel for those guys. As far as for me, I've never really gotten too attached to numbers per se. It's more the fan identification. I've been in and out of so many numbers that I can't keep them straight. I feel like out of respect for those loyal fans - Davey is no longer here and Ernie is not in the car - I feel like they deserve to see that 28 number run around the race track."
HAVE YOU HEARD FROM FANS ABOUT THAT? "I guess you can't help but hear that. You look back and just in the short, brief history of that situation. When I came on board, the powerhouse 28 team was in about a 6,000-rented dirty shop. It wasn't a pretty shop. It was dirty. There was virtually no equipment to work on. They used to be paired with the 88 team downtown and then that got to be a big controversy and they split those two teams up because Todd Parrott didn't want the distraction of the 28 team in his shop. So they split up. Well, the 28 sort of came out on the short end of that deal. They ended up in a rented shop, very little equipment to work with and even though they had some good people, the roster was cut down to a minimum of good experienced people. A lot of them stayed behind with the 88, so some of the old 28 team - the original team people think of - is really the 88 team today. There are still a handful that are on the 28, but I guess to sum it up. One thing I will give Robert is when I came on board, I feel sort of bad for Kenny Irwin because he didn't have much of a chance there because there wasn't much there to work with. Again, not to belittle the people, but they didn't have the equipment and didn't have much there. When I came on board, Robert hired about eight to 10 of my guys that were really good, quality guys. So he strengthened his personnel, he also moved the team out of that sort of ratty shop into a nice facility, my old facility which was pretty nice, and then improved on top of that. He did some additional clean-up work around there and then he bought more equipment. He bought some equipment that I had, so it was sort of a disappointment, but I knew that my 10 team that shut down was advanced over the 28 team when I came on board with Yates. Our guys quickly brought them up to speed on chassis and we took off and ran very well. It sort of went downhill again and now he's strengthened it back up again, so I think you'll see that team come back up on success. I'm not really sure why there are ebbs and flows of that particular team, but I think you're gonna see it in an up year and I think you'll see it stay up. If you look at history, I think you'll see it probably run good for two years and it's probably gonna slide down again and I'm not exactly sure why that is."
HAVE ANY OF YOUR OLD 10 GUYS MOVED WITH YOU? "Most of those guys were shop guys and, again, they've got it pretty good over there. There's not a lot of turnover there. Once you get there, Robert pays his help pretty well and they're located there. Their families are there, their kids are in school there. We've had some conversations, but I think it's in their best interest for certain to stay put. By the same token, it's not like the Wood Brothers are lacking for help. They've got a tremendous amount of depth. I went through the shop and they've got a lot of depth in the shop. The Yates team had talented people, but they didn't have the depth that the Wood Brothers had when I appeared at their shop. There's more depth in the shop. Again, Robert hired a bunch of my old guys, but those guys, as far as I know, they're staying put. I don't think any of those guys have left anywhere, so they're there with the changeover."