Another dramatic win keeps Rudd's streak alive By Shawn A. Akers MARTINSVILLE, Va. (Sept. 28, 1998) Although it hasn't exactly been by choice, Ricky Rudd has developed a flair for the dramatic. With the exception of last season, the...
Another dramatic win keeps Rudd's streak alive By Shawn A. Akers
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (Sept. 28, 1998) Although it hasn't exactly been by choice, Ricky Rudd has developed a flair for the dramatic.
With the exception of last season, the driver of the No. 10 Tide Ford has had to wait until the last few weeks of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season to put his car in Victory Lane in recent years and extend his streak of seasons with at least one victory.
With seven events left on the '98 schedule, he increasd that streak to 16 on Sunday by winning the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway, putting on a driving clinic in the final 60 laps on a scorcher of a day that saw the heat take its toll on several drivers.
Rudd now owns the longest active streak of years with at least one victory. He had been tied with both Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, each of whom had 15 consecutive seasons with at least one win.
"This was a long time in coming," Rudd said. "I had a heckuva race car all day. I think I'd definitely rate it right up there (with his proudest career wins). You try to keep a positive attitude all the time and keep your mental outlook really fresh all the time, but it was getting harder and harder to hold your head up coming to these race tracks and knowing that we weren't really even close to winning.
"The streak's getting ready to maybe come to an end, and I really wanted to get 16. I think 16 put me over the hump and breaks a modern record or something. It gets me away from Earnhardt in that category. It meant a lot. We came here, the car runs good off the truck and I knew in practice and Happy Hour that we had a car capable of winning. Explanation-wise, it doesn't really add up because we hadn't been that close before here."
Rudd's previous best finish this season was sixth at Dover in May. He entered Martinsville with only top-10 finishes all season. The win came at just the right time for Rudd, who is enduring perhaps his worst year in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Usually hovering around the top-10 in points, Rudd is 20th in the 1998 standings.
"This has been the toughest first half of the season," Rudd said. "This is probably one of the most frustrating seasons I've been in, and it really started after the Brickyard 400 last year. We won the Brickyard 400 and won a lot of money and said, 'Now it's time. We don't have a tremendously large budget, but now that we've got some money we can freshen up the cars a little bit, build some new ones.' And darn if everything we didn't build was worse than the cars we'd been racing. We came out of the box in the winter time and converted those slow T-Birds to slow Tauruses and were really in a predicament.
"Bill Ingle came back on board about six races into the season and he'd been kind of rusty for about two years. Bill has been rebuilding the cars as the year progressed. It's been tough on the crew, but the cars have been getting better and better.."
In 1996, Rudd waited until there was three races left in the season to win, taking the checkered flag in the ACDelco 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. In 1995, Rudd won the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix, the second-to-last race of the season, his only win of that campaign. In 1985, Rudd scored his only win in the Winston West 500, the final race of the season, while running for Bud Moore.
With a scorching heat in the 90s, Rudd said there were several times he thought about getting out of the car in favor of a relief driver. The team had Hut Stricklin standing by as a safety valve in case Rudd couldn't make it the entire 500 laps.
But nothing, not even hard-charging Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, could keep Rudd out of Victory Lane on Sunday.
"I think the encouragement of knowing that I had a car that was the fastest on the race track and had a real shot at winning the race kept me out there," Rudd said. "I knew I could pass the 40 car (Sterling Marlin, who led the most laps during the race), and I think that was my encouragement.
"As a matter of fact, at lap 100, I almost got out, it was that bad that early. We had Hut Stricklin standing by, and I'd like to thank Hut for doing that because we needed him, but man, I had such a great car I didn't want to give it up."
Rudd now has 20 career wins in 20-plus years on the circuit, and, at the age of 42, still has the fire in his belly to go out and win races.
"Well, the desire is still there," Rudd said. "The age is getting up there, but the desire is still there. I had to work pretty hard to keep myself in that car (on Sunday), but the desire is still there. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have been digging so hard."
"I want to congratulate Ricky Rudd," said Gordon, who couldn't catch Rudd over the final laps. "He did what he set out to do. What a heck of an effort. Great desire from him and that team."
"I'm proud of Ricky," said Marlin, who led four times for 231 laps but developed engine problems and finished a disappointing 18th. "It's hard to win a race here. It's hard to win a race anywhere. He's won each year for a number of straight years, so my hat's off to him."
Now Rudd has all of next year to extend the streak to 17 years. But you can bet that he'd rather get it behind him as early as possible.
Source: NASCAR Online