Richmond II: Rudd - Ford Friday interview

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion, will always remember his 900th start, but not for the reason he would like. Rudd suffered a shoulder injury during a multi-car accident in last weekend's Sharp AQUOS 500 at California...

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion, will always remember his 900th start, but not for the reason he would like. Rudd suffered a shoulder injury during a multi-car accident in last weekend's Sharp AQUOS 500 at California Speedway and will miss this weekend's event. It marks the first time Rudd will not drive due to injury.

RICKY RUDD -- No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion

"I'm not here trying to drum up a lot of publicity, believe me, I'd rather low profile it, but some of you guys are interested because it's a home track for us and Richmond has been a good race track for us over the years, so maybe this will keep you guys from having to run us down and come in here and answer a few questions.

"An injury like this, I'm not that tore up about it. I'm very happy that a shoulder injury is the only thing that I'm having to deal with. It could be a severe head injury considering the way the wreck was and the way these current cars are built and designed. They've got one major inherent design flaw and that's that the driver sits way too close to the left side of the car. His head is very vulnerable in an accident like that, so all the safety devices and everything worked great. I think I had one little problem with the seat and head rest combination that probably messed my shoulder up. Had it not been for that, I'd still be here 100 percent today. Anyway, thank goodness for all the NASCAR safety stuff they've got in these cars today. It's disappointing because this would probably have been my last Richmond race. I'm stepping out and retiring next year, so of all race tracks to be banged up for, to have to miss Richmond, that's the hard part about it, but life goes on."

DID YOU HIT WHERE THERE WAS NO SAFER BARRIER AND WAS THAT A FACTOR IN YOUR SHOULDER INJURY? "I'm still trying to figure out how that wreck happened. We wrecked in the straightaway basically. I guess Jeff Gordon stepped up and said he's take credit for it, but people that saw the wreck said they had to play it back seven times or so to see how it actually developed. The wreck actually started sort of behind me. It was like a chain-reaction on an interstate highway. I think Jeff hit the guy in front of him and he hit the guy in front of him and the wreck actually started three or four cars behind me and worked its way forward. I never saw what hit me. All I know is the car made an immediate right-hand turn. I happened to be on the front straightaway and we were running two or three wide at the time, so my car turned immediately right and I was in the fence as quick as you snapped your fingers. As far as where I hit, as far as I know, most tracks -- not just California -- the soft wall generally ends at the exit of the corner. What I hit was pretty solid. It was a pretty hard hit. Again, back to the seat technology, I ran for many, many years -- actually a couple of years ago -- without any left side head rest or anything, so all that stuff did its job. But it was a pretty hard impact. I've hit a lot harder, I'll put it that way, but the shoulder deal, again, I think what happened was a combination of the HANS device got wedged under the head rest arrangement and that's what actually did the damage, but it was a hard hit because it was not a soft wall on the straightaway."

DO YOU THINK THE SAME INJURY WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IN A COT? "Yes, I think I still would have because of the way the head rest attached to the seat arrangement. It's hard to describe, but there's a little ledge that rests about two inches about your HANS device, and I think I would have still had the same injury. When the guys built this car -- this was a new car they purposely built for that race -- we didn't test it or anything, but they slid the seat to the right because they just didn't feel comfortable. Your head is almost out in the clear air other than it's right behind the window net, so there were nervous about it and they re-located the seat arrangement. It's not a five-minute job to do, but that's one good thing about the COT. It could very simply be incorporated into the cars we're racing -- I think we've got about five races left with the current car -- but in the COT the possibility of banging your head on the wall is pretty much non-existent compared to the old style car."

WITH ALL THE SAFETY INNOVATIONS OVER THE YEARS HOW SAFE DO YOU FEEL IT IS NOW IN A STOCK CAR? "I think as far as racing goes they've done an excellent job. It's a shame it took the death of Earnhardt. I'll be honest with you, before that I never considered our cars unsafe. We ran them for many, many years and really didn't have many injuries until we started to see the fatalities with Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin and then Dale Earnhardt. A lot of safety innovations have taken place since that time. It's unfortunate we couldn't have had them earlier on, but I'm convinced that all three of those guys I mentioned would still be here today. We never thought of the cars being unsafe. Again, I ran for many, many years without any kind of left side protection to hold you in the car. There was no head rest, no left side rib support, no left side hip support, the leg extension braces we have on our seat, the way the steering column is arranged. This is the first year I've run all this stuff and I really have to thank David Gilliland for some of the stuff because we ran the Lajoie seat. In the past, my arms used to get tangled up in the seat and he sort of has a modified version of that seat. I drove his car in a test somewhere and I liked the seat a lot, so all of my seats are that way now. That good, safe seat is really probably what we owe most of the safety to as far as the wreck that I had with the head arrangement being so rigid and stiff, but, anyway, I think NASCAR does an excellent job -- not that they didn't do it in the past, but you kind of look at it before Earnhardt and after the Earnhardt situation. Since that time a lot of things have taken place in the emphasis of safety."

COULD IT BE BETTER? "It could be better. The big thing that I'm very fortunate is what happened my shoulder got hung up underneath the head rest attached to the seat. Had it not gotten hung up and the HANS had not gotten jammed up underneath the seat, again, that means I would have put more emphasis on the stretch of the shoulder belts. Basically, when the wreck happened it threw me into the left side door cage and threw me towards the wall. Again, that clearance that you have between your helmet and the wall on those current cars -- you're talking about when you're all stretched out probably less than an inch of head clearance between you and the wall. Whereas with the COT, for example, it's probably a foot. That's probably the only thing I can see right now that needs an immediate band-aid on it. I know there are only five races left on these cars, but that's the only thing I can say. I don't have an issue. My helmet didn't get scratched up. My head didn't hit the wall, but it does make you little nervous when you see the driver's head sitting so far out almost into the air stream."

IS THERE ANY CHANCE YOU'VE RUN YOUR LAST CUP RACE? "I don't know. I don't have an answer for that. That's really kind of in the doctor's hands. I'm going to the place that stretches you back out, tries to get you going again -- the rehab center there -- but I don't have answer for that and they don't have an answer right now. It's considered what they call a level three separated shoulder. When I heard separated shoulder, I thought that sounded pretty good -- it sounded a lot better than breaking. I understand that's not necessarily a good thing, it's torn ligaments and stretched ligaments. I've got one shoulder that's always gonna be an inch-and-a-half taller than the other one even when it heals. That's not a big deal, but as far as recovering from the injury, I don't know. It could be next week, it could be five weeks or six weeks. I don't know. There's 11 weeks of racing if you count this weekend, so I don't know. I'm open-minded. I hope it's not my last race. I'm not planning on that, but we'll just face it one weekend at a time. Right now we've got Kenny Wallace stepping in for us. He's gonna do a good job for the team this weekend. That's my plan, to go there and work with him as much as I can to shorten that communication that takes so long to develop with a crew chief. So I don't have an answer for that. I hope not. I certainly hope not, but who knows."

IF THE STREAK WAS STILL ALIVE WOULD YOU BE GETTING DUCT TAPED TO RACE? "There's no question about it, I could get in a car, duct tape myself up and make a few laps -- start the race. I don't know if I could make it to the first caution. I kind of look at it from a team perspective right now. I'm 30th in driver points. Other than it would be sort of a self-satisfaction situation starting the race and being able to say I've never not started a race because of an injury. I could have accomplished that, but the big picture is that the team is 30, 32nd in the owner points. To drop out of the top 35 is a huge deal. By coming in and starting the race, it could be like Bristol where we ran 125 laps before the first caution. Our doctor was telling us, 'I might be able to doctor you up and you might get 10-15-20 laps, but I can't guarantee anything beyond that. I can't even guarantee you that.' So if you come in and you change drivers on a short track -- even under yellow -- you're gonna lose two, three laps. We just can't afford to get the team dug into that much of a hole, but if I was looking for an ego thing -- I very well could start this race bandaged up and taped up, but for sure would not be able to finish this race." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON? "I'm glad I came back to race. I'm disappointed that our performances haven't been better. I think we've got a seventh at Charlotte as our best run of the year. I think I caught some heat the other day. Someone said, 'Oh, you sat out. He could you expect to come back and do well after sitting out a year' because of the technology change. But the driver is not the responsible guy for the technology loop or lack of information. Our team was in a struggle last year. We have made improvements and we're going in the right direction, but it is in severe need of a dose of healthy engineering influenced into the team. With the new Carl Haas, Lanigan, Paul Newman operation being merged with our operation, that's gonna be a great thing but I don't see that taking place until maybe in the winter and into next season. If I was 30 years old, I would have hung it out and waited and let the technology catch up and the team would get better. The team is gonna get better, it's a matter of how long it's gonna take. It's disappointing that our performances haven't been better -- myself or David Gilliland. David is a fine driver. He's as good as there is out there right now and, without beating up the guys at Yates Racing, they're trying very hard. Our crew chief, Butch Hylton, and Todd Parrott are working as hard as they can, but they're fighting a battle with one arm tied behind their back. They don't have the tools in the toolbox to get it done and we're waiting on that to happen right now."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Adam Petty , Kenny Wallace , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , David Gilliland
Teams Yates Racing