Please note that Saturday's qualifying was cancelled because of fog. Positions 1-35 were awarded by 2001 owner points, positions 36-37 were awarded by 2000 owner winner, and positions 38-43 were awarded by 2001 owner points. Ricky Rudd, driver...
Please note that Saturday's qualifying was cancelled because of fog. Positions 1-35 were awarded by 2001 owner points, positions 36-37 were awarded by 2000 owner winner, and positions 38-43 were awarded by 2001 owner points.
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Taurus, will become the fifth driver in NASCAR Winston Cup history to make 700 career starts when he lines up for tomorrow's Caroline Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway. He made his debut on March 2, 1975, with an 11th-place finish at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. Rudd holds the series' modern record of winning at least one race in 16 consecutive seasons. Saturday morning, Rudd talked about tomorrow's milestone, and took a look back at over a quarter century of racing.
RICKY RUDD-28-Texaco/Havoline Taurus-
IS THIS A MILESTONE THAT YOU'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT?
"No. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that 700 was coming up until Steve Post, our p.r. guy, told me about it. Maybe someday when you're sitting back in a rocking chair those numbers will mean something, but right off the top of my head it really doesn't stand out as a big milestone to me."
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PERKS THAT COME WITH THE LONGEVITY?
"Well, I'm still looking for the perks, I haven't found them out, yet. Certainly not respect, that has to be earned and maintained out on the race track, and it's no different if you're a young guy or an older guy. It's sort of 'What have you done for us lately?' I don't know about the perks, but the experience is awful nice. You sense things and you feel things in the race car that only experience can help you sort through it. You know, if you have a vibration, where'' it coming from, you've got such a data base to pull from, 'Oh yeah, I know what that is, it's the right-front brake rotor-it's got a crack in it. I know that because I had it happen maybe five years ago and this is what it was.' So it helps in troubleshooting a lot, just to have that experience. It's just hard to beat the experience when it comes to coming to different race tracks and trying to get the car set up for it, and handling, and you've run these race tracks so many times you can about run them in your sleep. For that side of it, I guess the feedback that the driver gives the crew chief probably helps in that area. But that's pretty much the extent of it. One good thing is it lets you know what restaurants to eat it in town because you've been coming to these race tracks so many years you know where to stay away from, where the good restaurants are to eat."
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE BEFORE THAT EXPERIENCE IS GAINED?
"Some tracks, you're better off coming in to 'em as a raw rookie because maybe you know that certain tracks - a good example is Darlington - can jump out and bite you pretty quickly, so maybe you respect some of these tracks a little too much, especially in qualifying trim. But some tracks are easier to adapt than others, all these tracks have a personality, so over the years that personality generally shows up, it doesn't matter if you're running Goodyear's latest compound or compound you've run here the last three years. It doesn't really matter how the aerodynamics of the car are, the track still has similar characteristics that you gotta pay attention to.
Darlington is a good example, I've been coming here for a long time and you still set cars up in traffic, to pass, the same way you did when I first started racing here. The only thing that's different here is the corners have been flip-flopped - the 1 and 2 now is 3 and 4 and so and so. But the places where to pass and where to do it smartly, all that pretty much stays the same over the years."
HOW WELL DO YOU REMEMBER THAT FIRST RACE BACK IN 1975?
"I can remember leading up to the race. We actually didn't know who was going to drive the car, my brother [Al] or myself. The car that we drove belonged to a guy named Bill Champion. He was a independent Winston Cup driver from the Virginia area and my brother's best friend was Bill Champion's second cousin, that's how the relationship got built. He was getting to retirement age and ready to step aside and he was owning his own equipment, working on it, he was just getting pretty tired and money wasn't flowing that good, he didn't have big sponsor, so he was looking for a change. My brother and his friend would go and work on the cars and they talked him into letting us go test the car. At the time we went to test it, we didn't know who was going to drive the car, myself or my brother. And we didn't even know we're going to get to drive the car, first, we just knew we were going to go test it. So we took it to a local track over in Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field, and we ran, I think, 30 or 40 laps apiece. I might've run first, and I did okay and was pretty impressed with it. My brother went out and ran, he was pretty fast, impressed with it - but he spun out two or three times, so I got the job then. We didn't know it at the time, he said, 'How'd you like to run next week's race?' and that's kind of how it got going."
SO, YOU DIDN'T HAVE A CHANCE FOR IT TO SINK IN.
"Right. Matter of fact, this was on a Tuesday, two days later we're on our way to Rockingham. I'll be honest, I didn't even know what all the flags meant. There was a lot of flags. Of course, I knew what the red, green, white and checkered were because that was the same in go-karts, but they had flags with crosses on them, black flags - I didn't even know what all those flags meant when I started my first race."
WHEN DID THIS BECOME A REGULAR DEAL FOR YOU?
"Well, I ran Rockingham. We were lucky, came out of there finished 11th, went on to Bristol, Tennessee, and finished 10th. I think I went to Atlanta. I think I ran three races that year. First race, I knew right away I had a whole lot to learn. I mean it was quite different from anything I had been in. I'd been used to sort of being at the top of my field, I raced go-karts, won national championships, I won a lot of motorcycle races, and first time I'm in a car, period, I'm in a Winston Cup race at Rockingham. And I was a cocky kid, 18 years old, you know, on top of the world, but I realized real quick I had a lot to learn after that first race, even though I finished 11th, I said, 'There's a big learning curve in front of me.' But I kind of glad it was that way. Had I gone out there and made it easy, I probably would've done something different. It was a big challenge in front of me and it took many, many years to really get comfortable in the car."
HAVING RACED AT OTHER LEVELS, IS THIS SOMETHING THAT YOU WANTED TO DO?
"At the time, all's I knew is I wanted to be - to be honest, when I was about 16 I was still racing go-karts and motorcycles, and I didn't really follow racing, in general, I was so busy, I was racing a couple of times a week, motorcycles or karts - mainly motorcycles at that time, karts in the early and back into motorcross the later years. I was racing a couple of times a week, and I knew that I wanted to be a professional driver. Motorcycles were good, but that was an option. My No. 1 choice at that time, 16 years old, was Indianapolis, that's where I wanted originally to go. Formula I seemed like it was something I wanted to do but it was so distant. So, I wanted to be in the Indianapolis 500 when I was about 16. Of course, that didn't happen, it wasn't in the cards. A couple of years later, the Cup thing worked out and at that time I really didn't have any long-term plans. This happened to become available, let's go try it. It was great because I was wanting to do something besides the motorcycles and the karts, I wanted to move into cars but I didn't really know how, and didn't really know what kind of cars, and all of a sudden, here's an opportunity, and it happened to be in Winston Cup, top of the line. But at that time, I didn't really know the different divisions, I didn't know that Cup was the top of the line. So, really, I was pretty doggone unaware of what I was getting into."
WHAT MILESTONES DO STICK OUT TO YOU?
"That was the start, but family after that, one year my dad [Al, Sr.] put up the money and helped us build race cars, my brother obviously helped, he built motors, it was a family deal for a couple of years. That was big thing, we won rookie of the year , that was probably the first milestone. The next step in my career was to leave the family deal and go drive for Junie Donlavey in 1979. And when I went to Junie I had only run a handful of races because we didn't run a full schedule, some of the short tracks I never had been to before. So Junie was like a driving instructor that year in '79, so I learned a lot from him. And then there was another lean year or two along the way. And then in '81, probably running a family car at Charlotte and sitting on the outside pole there. The car had sat all year, and basically took the car, and Linda and I moved down to North Carolina, and D.K. Ulrich let us use the shop, and the last minute Harry Hyde helped us, and Jimmy Makar was a young guy coming along - that story's been told a hundred times. But anyway, that was a pretty big milestone because I sat on the outside pole and fourth at Charlotte. What that did was DiGard Racing, Gatorade, at that time, was one of the biggest teams in racing. Darrell Waltrip was leaving that team to go drive for Junior Johnson, and that ride became available and they called me to come drive for them. So, that was a big milestone - even though I was nowhere near ready for that, I only had 20, 30 races under my belt, probably, at that time. I wasn't ready for it but was either take that ride or go back and work in my dad's junk yard. And it wasn't that that was a bad thing to do, it was work, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. The DiGard ride became available, and again, I was ready for it, I didn't have enough experience for it, but took it, and that's what opened the doors. We didn't win anything that year, but we learned a lot that year.
"I came back in '82 and '83 and Richard Childress decided not to drive his own car anymore, he was going to be a car owner. It wasn't the operation that it is today, it was just him, really, an independent operation that top 10 was a great finish for him. So we went over there and won poles in '82 and then in '83 we came out and won two race. Winning my first race at Riverside probably stands out. After that, the next wins that stand out to me, the Brickyard 400 in '97 with an owner-driver situation. I was fortunate that there were a lot of big rides along the way that I took. I don't know where the final chapter is."
BIGGER PICTURE, WHAT ABOUT WINNING AT LEAST ONE RACE FOR 16 CONSECUTIVE YEARS?
"When you talk about numbers and streaks, to me that means more to me than just 700 starts. I guess, to go back, I was pretty successful in all the racing I did - as most everybody who gets to the Winston Cup level, they all were champions, usually, from some other form of racing. Just to be there to start the race, that never would've appealed to me but the 16-year win streak, which is a, I guess, a modern record today, that means more to me, number-wise, even at 16 than the number 700 means to me right now."
ARE THERE MORE COMPARISONS OR DIFFERENCES IN NASCAR RACING NOW VERSUS WHEN YOU STARTED IN 1975?
"It changed. Back in that era, you didn't race for money, it wasn't about money, it was about wanting to beat the competition, wanting to do well, and wanting to drive a Winston Cup race cars, and a hundred dollars a week. I made that for a good part of the early part of my career, that was all the money I made and tickled to death to make that money - never seemed to lack for anything. Traveled a lot rougher than we do today, at the time we didn't realize it. There were no airplanes, it was hop in the car, it didn't matter if we were racing in California, you hopped in a van and you drove to California. You didn't have the big semis. You'd put five, six people in the hotel rooms. You did that. Guys today, they got it pretty good, but I wouldn't trade those early years for nothing. I wouldn't go back and re-live 'em, but it gave me a whole lot more respect and appreciation. Now, race drivers make good money, it's a welcomed benefit, it's a luxury that I didn't - I never got in the sport for the love of money, I got in it for the love of racing. I think some people get in the sport today because they love the money, and racing's a way to get there. It's just a different time era. It's good now, it was good then. It's a lot busier now than it used to be. As a driver, there's things to do seven days a week. And the sacrifices now that you make, back when I got going, we were off Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday. Thursday was a travel day, drive day, and we would drive to the race track just in time to get there because we didn't have money for a hotel room to stay there on a Thursday night before practice began on Friday so we would time it just right. My wife would drive a good part of the way, I'd drive the other part, that's how we did it. After the race you hopped in the car and you drove home. But Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays were your days to do whatever you wanted to because there was no big interest in the sport, you didn't have press things to do. The fans, I met a lot of good friends over the years because the fan base wasn't that big. You'd go to a qualifying deal like, say, we were here at Darlington on Friday and how many thousands of people will be in the stands, but in the early days there were maybe 10 or 20, and you usually knew them on a first-name basis, so it's been interesting to see the change."
One of the pleasant Ford surprises during the first four races of 2001 has been the performance of Robert Pressley and his Jasper Motorsports team. After three consecutive top-20 finishes to start the season, Pressley found himself a career-best eighth in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. Even though a 36th-place effort in Atlanta last weekend dropped him to 17th, Pressley and crew chief Ryan Pemberton go into this weekend's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 with a great deal of confidence.
ROBERT PRESSLEY --77-- Jasper Engines and Transmissions Taurus --
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE WAY THINGS HAVE STARTED?
"I'm really happy. I guess there are some people who are really surprised or wondering what we're doing, but I honestly think we're on the same track we were last year. The only difference is that at Daytona this year we missed the big wreck. We had some loose lugnuts during the race and what we thought was bad luck turned into something good because we missed the big wreck. The next week at Rockingham we had a great car and finished 12th and at Vegas we had a good run all day and stayed on the lead lap until 10 to go. We had a little bad luck at Atlanta, but we'll bounce back from that. What we're trying to do is prevent those little things that took us out of races last year. It's a lot easier on me and Ryan because we're able to communicate a lot better. At this same time last year we were still trying to learn each other, but if Ryan tells me to do something, I do it. He knows what I want and I know how he works, so that's where we've really made some improvement over last year."
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF AMONG THE TOP 10 IN POINTS?
"Honestly, I know there are a lot of great teams that have gotten off to slow starts, but there are some teams in front of us that we feel we can beat. I don't think it matters if its three races or 33 races, if we can consistently be in the top 15, then we're gonna be there in the points at the end of the year. We don't want to run good and then run bad. We want to be consistent. If we do that enough, then we're gonna start getting top fives and then the thing we all want is that first win."
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE?
"I don't think I have anything to prove to my fellow competitors because I've raced with all these guys back in the Busch Series. I think everybody in here respects everybody else in Winston Cup. Maybe it's different for the media, the promoters or the owners, but I don't feel I have anything to prove to anybody. I'm happy with what this race team has done. We took it from being a team that was just a race team to one that has moved into the middle of the pack. Our next step is to bring it into a top 10 and then eventually make it a winning team every week."
YOU'VE COMBINED ENGINE PROGRAMS WITH PENSKE, BUT DO YOU STILL CONSIDER YOURSELF A SINGLE-CAR TEAM?
"Yeah, we really are a single-car team. What we do with the Penske-Jasper engine deal is they furnish our engines. Some of our guys left our motor program and went to work for Penske and a merger was made, so they furnish the motors. We don't have any other connection with them, except Ryan and Robin are brothers. Ryan is doing a lot of things that he wants to do and I think he asks Robin for advice when he needs it, but they hired me to drive this car four years ago and that was a small piece of what this team needed. The next thing is they went through a couple of crew chiefs until they found Ryan. That was the next piece of the pie that we needed to make this a great race team and now they've merged the engine program. We've got all the ingredients here and now we've got to stir 'em up and bake it to see how it comes out."
WHAT ABOUT DARLINGTON?
"I have not had a good Winston Cup finish at Darlington. I've led a lot of laps in the different Winston Cup cars I've been in and I've won two Busch races there. I love Darlington. This is a new year and we're in much better shape as far as the points, so we can go there and get a race setup instead of worrying about just getting in the race."
RYAN PEMBERTON, Crew Chief --77-- Jasper Engines and Transmissions Taurus --
WHAT'S BEEN THE KEY TO YOUR START?
"We've just been consistent in not taking ourselves out of the game. We're running like we were last year, but the difference is that we haven't dug a hole. When we left Atlanta last year we were really suffering with two DNFs and were 28th in points, so the key for us has been to not take ourselves out of the game. We tried to do that last year, but it takes a long time to get all of the bugs worked out of everything. We ran good at Rockingham in the fall and Atlanta in the fall and the key is not falling out of races, that's been the biggest thing."
IS THAT REALLY THE KEY, JUST FINISHING RACES?
"What do they say, 'To finish first you first must finish.' We had a lot of runs last year where we were competitive and didn't finish the race and that's the biggest thing for us right now. We need to be consistent and not take ourselves out of the game and you'll see us in a much different position in points than we were last year. We've got the capability and know that we can run in the top 15 at any race track at any time. We're trying to log those top-15s and get ourselves in a good position in points and if we can do that, I think it'll eventually help our qualifying efforts. We used to have to be so conservative on how we qualified. We couldn't be too aggressive because of where we were in points. We were right in the middle where it can be pretty dangerous, so if we can maintain a decent spot in the standings, we can maybe go and be a little more aggressive and try to have some really good qualifying efforts. It would be nice to know that if something happens and you don't get a good lap, it's not the end of the world. That's where we want to be."
WHAT'S THE FEELING BEEN LIKE AT THE SHOP?
"It's almost like, 'Finally, we're coming away from these race tracks with finishes that we deserve.' We feel like we're not getting robbed of our finishing positions, we're just getting what we deserve. There's definitely a better feeling than being where we were this time last year and it's kind of exciting for the guys on the team. We've got a lot of new guys that haven't been in this sport that long or guys who have been around but have never been in this situation, so it feels good. Sometimes all it takes is a little momentum to get you on a roll and the next thing you know, you're one of those top guys. Michael Waltrip is a prime example. He's won a race and been real competitive ever since and I don't think a lot of people would have thought that from him. I'd definitely like to have that one win under our belt like he has, but we've run fairly good so far and I think just having that hope that we can be like him or be up front and stay there all year is a great feeling because it pumps everybody up." CAN YOU STAY AROUND THE TOP 10 ALL YEAR? "I think we can be close to the top 10 if we just do what we've been doing. We'll have to definitely step up our performance to be in the top 10, but sometimes all it takes is a little momentum and a little bit of confidence. The pit crew is doing good. The cars are great, so we definitely have the team capable of doing that but now we have to put it all together. I need to get better at working with Robert. We need to answer questions faster about the race car and improve on where we're running. We can run in the top 15. Now we need to take a 10th to 15th-place car and make it a seventh to 12th-place car and then we can be in the top 10 in points. It's going to take a lot of work, but I feel we have the ability to do that."