Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, will have a new crew chief next week when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series shifts to Bristol. Michael "Fatback" McSwain will replace Ben Leslie, who accepted a position as NASCAR Field...
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, will have a new crew chief next week when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series shifts to Bristol. Michael "Fatback" McSwain will replace Ben Leslie, who accepted a position as NASCAR Field Manager for Ford Racing. Rudd spoke about the change on Friday morning.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON FATBACK? "We're real excited about that - to have the opportunity to work again with Fatback. We had a lot of good things happen together. The car was always competitive and we made a pretty good run at the championship a couple years back. Our chemistry was really working and I'm real excited about having him come back on board."
CAN THIS BE A BETTER RIDE FROM A PERSONAL STANDPOINT? "I think the second time around you know what to expect of each other. He's really into his work. He has all of his emotions into that race car and sometimes when things don't go exactly right he vents some steam and that's just Fatback - that's just the way it works. I'm a little bit the same way, so I think over the years we've butted heads a little bit, but by the same token we'll go in there and put our arms around each other's shoulders and walk out the door together. That comes with time. Like I said, I know I've personally grown a little bit and maybe don't take things so personal and probably don't get as riled up a bad as maybe I used to on personal things. So all of those personal issues or whatever we've had are behind us."
IS THIS A SHOT IN THE ARM? "There's no doubt about it that the performance has not been there. We had a good run last week with Ben Leslie and all the guys. We had a great run with good, smart calls last week. We ended up eighth and we probably had an eighth to 10th-place car. To go this long and finally get a top 10 finish, that's not really something to be proud of. I have to commend the Wood Brothers for looking at it and saying, 'Hey, the performance is not good. We've got to look at making some adjustments and changes.' There's no doubt about it, the team will run better and I pretty much guarantee that. Like I said, there are a lot of things we've got to work on. With Fatback stepping in during the middle of the season, all of the cars are built so does it take a week, two weeks, two months to get ready? I'm not really sure. It depends on how much work he's got to do to get things like he wants."
HOW DO YOU MAKE UP FOR THE TIME LOST? "I think if you look back at Fatback's history - and this is why I hired him on my own team at the end of the Rudd Motorsports era in '99 - he came on late in the season. He didn't come on at the beginning of the season, he came on late in the season and we instantly had better performances. You look at the teams where he was before that - he was with Cale Yarborough Motorsports and Jasper, and wherever he went the teams ran better. I know with Bobby Labonte, to me, their performance immediately increased when he came on board with those guys. So it's fortunate for us that things didn't work out between Joe Gibbs Racing and Fatback. I'm tickled to death. I know that fairly quickly you're gonna see some better results."
HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT? "I'm not really sure how it all came to be. To be honest with you, things moved kind of quick. When he found out he was not gonna be the crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing that happened at kind of a crazy time. The team was running fifth or sixth in the points and things on the outside looked good and, all of a sudden, the next week they make a crew chief change. So from that standpoint, that was a great opportunity for us. Ben Leslie is a good crew chief. Like I said, the chemistry just never really clicked between the two of us. I felt like we gave it plenty of time for that to happen, but the opportunity to come along and have a guy available that you've worked with for four or five years in years past and knowing that the conversations and communication is not an issue. That's what it's really about this day and time. There are no issues there. I think that we can come in and immediately start making progress. Now I had to go out there this week and say, 'Hey, we're gonna go out there and win races right away.' I think the real world is we're gonna see some pretty good improvement in performance and pretty quickly."
SO THIS MIGHT BE A BETTER MARRIAGE WITH FATBACK REJOINING YOU AND BEN GOING TO FORD? "I think it's a win for everybody. Ford was in desperate need of somebody that is really knowledgeable from a technical standpoint. Robin Pemberton was gonna be moving from that spot to take the NASCAR spot, and they were having a hard time finding a guy to fit that position. There was really no long-term plan to make this happen, but when the plan sort of presented itself, I have to commend everybody for seeing the opportunities and for pouncing on them quickly. The best thing is that everything kind of came together pretty quickly, but the way I look at it, it's gonna be a good situation for Ben. He's got a young son, so he'll be able to spend a little more time at home. He's a very good technical guy and he can fill Robin Pemberton's shoes very well. Robin's happy, so I don't see anybody who is not happy. The bottom line for us is to see an increased and better performance and I think that's a given."
WILL FATBACK BE HERE THIS WEEKEND? "No, he's not gonna be here this weekend. He's got some things he's trying to finish up around home and he's only gonna have a couple days or three days to get our Bristol cars like he wants, so I think that's his priority right now. You've got two big issues at most all of these tracks - you've got aerodynamics and you've got chassis. You can pretty much rule out aero at Bristol and just go to work on chassis, so being that we're going to a short-track next week will probably be a little easier on him and will give him time, probably, to get the bigger track stuff together."
WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF WORKING WITH FATBACK BEFORE? "I'd say probably the greatest times I remember is after the practice and after everything was over, we were good friends. We'd be out in the parking lot playing with our remote control cars together and you almost have to have that type of chemistry, where you're good friends and you can pretty much level with each other and you know what you're gonna get - the good and the bad. It's almost like a marriage because you spend a lot of time together. Not everybody is perfect, so you've got to take the good with the bad. But I think the biggest thing is that he's the kind of guy that just lives, breathes and sleeps racing. He might have a thought at 12 o'clock at night and pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, Rooster, what did you say the car was doing last week? What about if we do this?' I might say, 'That's a great idea.' That's the kind of chemistry you've got to have."
YOU GUYS DIDN'T PART ON THE BEST OF TERMS. WHEN DID YOU PATCH THINGS UP? "Really, when they talk about we didn't get along, what happened is that the team was breaking up at the end of the 2002 season at Yates. It didn't end like I wanted it to, but Fatback and myself actually got along pretty good. When it looked like a situation where we weren't gonna be together the next year, there wasn't a whole lot of bad feelings there. Now things did come to a boil one day and we had some pretty serious discussions one-on-one with each other, but we pretty much had our little meeting and vented some steam on each other's part and that was behind us. That happened in July and we still ran the rest of the year. It wasn't like it was a stormy relationship the whole time. In the whole time of being together for four or five years I can think of one incident when we actually had some words with each other. I think it's amazing we only had one time in four or five years. It's like saying you're never gonna argue with your wife - you don't plan on it but sometimes it happens. So one time in a four or five year relationship is not a bad thing. Actually, it's a good relationship."
HOW MUCH DID YOU TALK WITH HIM LAST YEAR? "We'd see each other and pass each other and acknowledge each other. He was busy going his way and I was busy going my way. To say that we were still best of friends, I don't think you have a whole lot of time in this business to have best friends. But when he saw me coming or I saw him coming, it wasn't like we went the opposite way. He'd always say, how are you doing, and we'd stop for a few seconds and chat a little bit and move on. That was as early as last year, so it was never a situation that we were arch-enemies. It never came to that. I think after that whole situation came to an end, I regret that I wasn't able to still work with him."
CAN YOU PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHY THE COMMUNICATION WASN'T THERE WITH BEN? "Just so he (Leslie) doesn't take this the wrong way, I think I said something about I'm speaking in English and he's listening in Spanish or vice versa. That wasn't meant to be a derogatory comment towards him because I think he's a very talented guy. When you break these drivers down, particularly in the older days, you had drivers that were very technical that really didn't need crew chiefs. They needed somebody to change the parts on the car for them. Then you have the days where you've got drivers, which are very much like the young drivers today, they don't really know anything about the chassis, the springs or the aerodynamics, they're looking for a feel. I'm more of a guy that's looking for a feel. I'm not gonna get out and say I want this spring number such-and-such in the right-front and I want this shock absorber. You've got A-type drivers and B-type drivers. That's kind of the way they're gonna describe things. Fatback, when he listens, he drove some dirt cars and asphalt cars himself, so when I get out and say the car felt like it's laying over on the right-front, I never knew what springs were under the car and didn't care. I used to way back when I had my own cars in my first go-round back in the seventies. I did a lot of chassis work myself and if I'm that involved in calling spring numbers and being that much of a technical guy, then I'm concerned because I'm not that good at that. You've got a guy like Mark Martin that really excels at that, and Ryan Newman and Rusty, but those are probably the only guys in the garage area that you'd put in that category now as being a technical guy. So the same crew chief that works with a driver like that is gonna be a different crew chief that's gonna work with a majority of the drivers. The chemistry with Fatback and I just clicked. When I'd get out and say the thing is wiggling around or won't turn, he was like, 'Oh yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about,' and he'd go back to work and, all of a sudden, the car is not doing that anymore. This is not meant to be disrespectful to Ben because he's got a proven and winning track record in the past, but the two together just didn't seem to click."
WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS NOW? "I think we have to give it some time to let it work, but I'm pretty confident you're gonna see some improvements pretty quickly. To sit here and say we're gonna win every race between here and the end of the year wouldn't be a true statement, but we're gonna take it a race at a time. The bad thing is it's happening in the middle of the season, but the good thing is it's happening to begin with because a guy like Fatback isn't walking along unemployed very long. It's a rare opportunity for someone to pounce on it, so I have to commend the Wood Brothers for seeing that opportunity. To sit here and give you a timetable, if we were in the winter and had time to prepare would be one thing, but he knows how he wants his cars built. He knows how he wants the chassis and the bodies, so to give him fair credit, he doesn't even know what we've got now. He's got to look at the notebooks and see what we've got and that's not gonna happen overnight. Just kind of listening what's gonna happen, I think he's gonna attack the Bristol car first since aerodynamics are not an issue. He'll come in and look at the Bristol car and make the changes that he's got time to make. Then as time goes on through a busy season, he'll slowly get an arsenal of cars built the way he wants them built."