LONG POND, Pa. - New weekend, new venue, same heartbreak for Ricky Rudd. The biggest story from the Pocono 500 wasn't that Dale Jarrett ended his losing streak, but the way that Rudd, his Robert Yates Racing teammate, continued his. It was ...
LONG POND, Pa. - New weekend, new venue, same heartbreak for Ricky Rudd. The biggest story from the Pocono 500 wasn't that Dale Jarrett ended his losing streak, but the way that Rudd, his Robert Yates Racing teammate, continued his. It was the second straight NASCAR Winston Cup race that Rudd virtually had in his pocket, only to see his march toward triumph self-destruct in the closing laps.
And once again, the collapse involved tires.
Rudd had led 60 laps at Pocono Raceway, most of the event, and had a decent cushion over Jarrett following the final restart on lap 172 after a yellow for debris. With 10 laps to go, Rudd radioed that he felt a tire going down. Jarrett was charging and within five laps, caught Rudd as he struggled with deteriorating handling. Rudd backslid helplessly through the field until the tire disintegrated entirely, sending him into the wall on the final lap.
Jarrett's UPS Ford continued on to take the yellow and checkered. Rudd, again, was left to fume about what had slipped away after he placed 17th.
"We had him," Rudd said. "I wouldn't say I had anything left, that was all I had, and he was driving as hard as he could. But it looked like we were going to end up there with about a second lead at the end of the race. And it just didn't happen."
Last week at Dover International Speedway, Rudd was contending solidly when his crew sent him out after a final pit stop with a loose wheel. Early last month at Richmond International Raceway, he was dueling with Rusty Wallace when a deflating tire caused them to tangle.
"What have I got to do? That's two in a row," said Rudd's crew chief, Mike McSwaim. "Don't give me a gun to play with right now, and you sure don't want to take me to Las Vegas with you."
Jarrett's solid, but somewhat improbable win, had him still trying to grasp what had transpired after the race was over.
"If you put yourself in the top five, that gives you a chance to win, either by strategy or running better or, like today, unfortunately, my teammate having problems like he did," Jarrett said. "I've always said that if you're trying to win a race, the hardest thing to do is try to chase down another Yates engine. I was going to be perfectly happy in finishing in second."
A long run that wasn't interrupted by the final caution might have resulted in a different outcome. Mark Martin's fuel mileage was superior to everyone's and a green-to-the-end finish would have likely put him up front.
As it was, Martin stopped for fresh tires on the yellow and hung on for second. Jimmie Johnson's remarkable rookie run ended with a third in his first Pocono appearance, his 10th top-10 in 14 races this season. Sterling Marlin, the Winston Cup points leader, was fourth, but his point lead over Johnson remained intact, thanks to five bonus points for leading a lap.
"It was terrible early, and it took us about half the race to get the car going," Marlin said. "It was pretty decent at the end, but we were no match for the Fords and Chevrolets."
If Rudd's luck was awful, Jeff Gordon's was absolutely golden. He locked up his back wheels try to drop to the pit road speed while downshifting, spun and stalled at the mouth of pit road, scorched the car when gasoline in the headers ignited while restarting and dropped to 24th. Gordon recovered to finish fifth and was happy to do so.
"We've got to be happy with fifth, the way our day went," he said. "Downshifted and wheel-hopped it and spun out. It was a mess. I don't know how in the world we stayed on the lead lap."