Ricky Rudd Darlington II interview 2001-08-28

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, comes into this weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Following is a transcript of Rudd's appearance on the weekly...

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, comes into this weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Following is a transcript of Rudd's appearance on the weekly NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus

DARLINGTON IS A TOUGH PLACE ISN'T IT?

"It's pretty typical Darlington. I mean, it's earned it's reputation. It is definitely a track that is very tough. It doesn't matter how many years you've been racing there. It's not that it's that tough by yourself, it just gets really tough when you're working race traffic. Timing is probably more critical there, where you don't catch the lapped cars at a certain spot, you sometimes even slow down on the middle of the straightaway so you don't catch a car that you're overtaking at the wrong time. So, a lot of thought process goes into running good at Darlington and a lot of patience doesn't hurt matters any."

YOU'RE TESTING AT TALLADEGA. HOW DID THINGS GO ON MONDAY AND TODAY?

"I guess it was a NASCAR test yesterday. Today, the second day of the test is kind of our test to do what we want to do with it. Yesterday was pretty interesting. I guess the gist of the test session was to try different configurations of restrictor-plate size, roof spoilers on, roof spoilers off, different decklid spoiler settings with and without the inch-and-a-half gurney-flap, which is that 90-degree wicker bill some people call it that is mounted on that rear spoiler. So it was kind of a combination of playing with different variances of those. It was pretty interesting. I think what probably came out of that is it looks like, especially at Talladega, that it's not gonna be necessary to run the roof spoiler or that wicker bill spoiler on the back -- kind of more like the current Busch rules. I think most of the drivers left here yesterday afternoon agreeing that the cars drove better without those roof spoilers on them. Some issues remain. Some of the GM camp was sort of upset that if they take the roof spoilers off, then they're gonna be junk. I didn't personally see that yesterday, but they seemed to be adamant about keeping the roof spoilers on, so we'll see. I'm not really sure. It's one of those situations where it's not like something's broke let's fix it, but I think, if anything, it's just educating NASCAR farther down the road that gives them some more options to make the rules more flexible if they see the need, and know what those changes will do instead of just shooting in the dark with them."

WHAT'S THE MAIN PROBLEM NASCAR IS TRYING TO SOLVE AT TALLADEGA?

"The cars actually drive good and that's almost part of the problem. They drive so well that it's impossible to lose the draft. You could take a team that's not very well prepared for this race and, if they're lucky enough to get in the field through qualifying, they can play around at the back of the pack and then get brave with 20 laps to go and try to drive back up through the field and they can get there within two laps. I think, if anything, the big closure rates that we see -- not so much the racing itself needs to be majorly adjusted, but just the closure rates we see when cars get wind of that draft in front of them. These big roof spoilers are doing what they were intended to do. They create a big hole in the air and it allows anybody to draft up behind the guy in front of them, but there have been a lot of near misses. I don't think the drivers have necessarily been a huge fan of these roof spoilers just because of the closure rate. Things are going backwards and forwards so quick that you almost can't keep your eyes on what's going on, so I would think, if anything, just look at the driver's comments and see if they could maybe adjust the rules a little bit to where it wasn't such a white-knuckle affair and everybody enjoyed the racing a little bit better on the race track. Again, I haven't really seen a lot of major signs of something being broke, other than maybe keeping these packs not quite as bunched together as they are -- maybe stretch them out. When I say stretch them out, two or three feet off each other would be nice. That would be like having a good breath of fresh air. Another thing they might be looking at is that since they've come out with these rules, out of 548 laps Ford has led only 40 laps of competition. I'm not sure in the back of their minds that maybe they see things are sort of out of whack on the competitive side and maybe they're looking at how they can even that competition back up again between manufacturer's."

SO YOU THINK THE ROOF SPOILER AND WICKER BILL WILL BE OFF FOR TALLADEGA?

"I think if you talked to all the drivers yesterday -- we ran different configurations. As a matter of fact, we ran that configuration twice just to see if everybody really agreed on it and that configuration was basically similar to the Busch rules where you do away with that roof spoiler and do away with that wicker bill on that rear decklid, and you run a little less angle on that rear spoiler -- you lay it back from 70 and cut it back to 60. I think all the driver's comments were definitely 'we like the cars better like this. They're just as racy, they driver better, let's go with this.' But I'm not so sure that now you get into the political issues that 'well, it looks like it might help a Ford or Chevrolet better than one another or vice versa,' so NASCAR has got to deal with all of that right now. I imagine there will be some wind tunnel tests that kind of confirm what they need to know as far as evening that competition up. When you make a cut like that, make sure that it affects all the cars the same and I'm sure that's a big concern for them. They may or may not do anything. They may choose to do nothing, but that's their call."

SOME WOULD LIKE TO DO AWAY WITH THE RESTRICTOR PLATE. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

"Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil it seems like. I think what everyone is referring to is they want to get back away from where you have 40 cars running virtually on top of each other. Right now it's sort of like the teams that work hard to really massage their cars to make their cars a little better than the competition, when you get out there in the race all of that hard work that goes into prepping these cars really goes out the window because it basically evens up all the cars and everybody can keep up so you start having 40-car packs. I think the issue is when you're racing like that and have 43 cars together, there might be 30 great talented drivers but there might be 10 or 15 or might be one or two that maybe aren't that good on these race tracks and they can start those chain reactions. That's usually what happens, somebody makes a mistake. If anything is a concern, I would say it's that when you had open restrictor plates, the cars that handled the best aero-wise and chassis-wise would usually find their way to the front of the pack. The best cars at the end of one of these races now don't necessarily end up at the front of the pack, it just depends on how that shuffle in the last 10 laps shakes out -- whether you're lucky or unlucky. So I think it takes the control out of some of the better teams and better drivers on these types of tracks. They're basically contributing such a small percentage of the success of the car. It's more about luck."

WOULD YOU BE A PROPONENT OF LOSING THE RESTRICTOR PLATE?

"I think it wouldn't be impossible to see 230-miles-an-hour-plus at Talladega and with the current engines we have today, I think that's just impossible (to race without the plate). We all know these cars get airborne when they get sideways and once they get around 200-miles-an-hour, that seems to be the magic number. I think it's a necessary evil right now. There has been mention of small cubic-inch engines, getting the engines down where you could run without a restrictor plate. I'm not a motor guy, so I don't really know what affect that would have. I think, all in all, you have to ask is there a problem? I think from the fan's standpoint, they're seeing a lot of close racing. You go back when I raced without restrictor plates and the racing was not nearly as close as it is today -- it was more spread out. There wasn't side-by-side racing, it was more where you'd slingshot a guy, you'd slide under him going in the corner and you'd slide all the way to the top of the race track because the cars were going so fast. I don't know if people remember that well enough to say, 'yeah, that's gonna be a lot better than it is today.' I know as a driver it seemed to be less white-knuckled than it is today, but, like I say, whatever the rules are we're here to participate and go. I don't think you're ever gonna make everybody 100 percent happy."

WHERE DO YOU STAND ON DARLINGTON?

"It's been on the schedule since I've been racing and many years before that. To me, it's a historical place. The major problem that we have as a team setting up for Darlington is the asphalt surface there takes a beating with all that sand that blows around on that race track. It tends to polish that race track off so fine that we have a hard time getting grip on the track. It's not so much the track layout itself, it's just that we fight lack of grip there -- probably more so than any other race track we go to. So it presents a set of problems that I don't necessarily think is speed related. I don't think it's a course layout problem, it's just that they have a problem with that sand and that asphalt down there. I couldn't imagine taking Darlington off the schedule. To me, it's part of Winston Cup racing. It is a tough track, but you know that going in and you give it the respect it deserves. If not, you usually don't find your way to the end of that race."

DO YOU WISH SOME OF THE NEWER TRACKS WOULD HAVE BEEN BUILT LIKE A BRISTOL OR DARLINGTON OR RICHMOND?

"It definitely seems like the trend is going to bigger race tracks. As a driver, I didn't necessarily come up like a lot of drivers who came up on the Saturday night short tracks. I came up through go-karts, motorcycles, dirt tracks, so I don't really have anything to compare it to growing up. But I know when I first started my Winston Cup career way back in the late seventies and a full schedule in the eighties, there were more shorter tracks on the circuit and I miss that a little bit. Everything seems to be going bigger and there are some that will argue that bigger is not necessarily better."

IS THERE ANY TALK AMONG THE DRIVERS IN WINSTON CUP ABOUT SOME SORT OF ADVISORY COMMITTEE LIKE OTHER SERIES HAVE?

"I really haven't heard of that. I'm not that familiar with what the other series are doing. I think NASCAR right now is taking it upon themselves to completely restructure the way they look at safety, so I think all the drivers and competitors are happy and excited to see that NASCAR is taking an initiative to really wrap up what they're doing in safety. We're anxious to do whatever we can to participate, but also anxious to hear the feedback that comes out of some of these things that are going on, including crash-testing, the sled tests that they do. I'm interested in if there are any extra safety devices we can add to our car, but right now NASCAR seems to have taken the initiative. It's not necessary for us right now at this point -- I shouldn't say not to be concerned, but I think we can kind of sit back and see what NASCAR is doing because they're definitely aggressive about trying to make these things safer."

HAS THE INCIDENT BETWEEN YOU AND RUSTY AT BRISTOL BEEN RESOLVED?

"We're parked across the bench from each other down here at Talladega and we've been talking back and forth. I think Rusty sees it like I did. It was a Saturday night short track and we were all racing hard for positions and a couple of us got together. I'm sure he was a little upset at the end of that race, I guess he lost a position there on the last corner and then he lost his brakes I guess, or he didn't use the brake pedal -- I'm not sure which one -- but as far as I'm concerned and Rusty is concerned it's over with. It was just a hard-fought short track race and we both came out of there in fairly good shape."

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH AN UPSETTING SITUATION LIKE THAT WHEN YOU'RE RACING EVERY WEEK?

"It's a situation where you certainly get mad and get caught up in the heat of the moment, but then all of a sudden I think you really just have to sit back and put it in perspective. A lot of the wrecking that went on at Bristol was guys probably just driving harder than that track would allow them to drive. It's a treacherous race track and you cannot run 100 percent of your capability all night long. Most of the accidents that you saw there at Bristol were guys driving like they would every week and the race track not being able to handle guys running 100 percent of their capability all night long. It will bite you. You can run 100 percent for short stints, but you cannot run 100 percent the entire race. If you do, you'll find yourself in the garage area like many guys did. It's a give-and-take race track. A lot of guys, you get down late in the season -- the season is winding down -- aggression tends to come out on the shorter tracks. I'm not really sure why, but I guess the speeds are down enough and aero is not a big issue, so it's back to kind of the grassroots from where most of these guys came from. I'm not really sure how to address it other than the fact that frustrations tend to come out and Bristol is not a place that you can let that happen. It's no different than a pro boxer getting his temper up. All of a sudden he starts making mistakes and I saw that happen a lot the other night at Bristol."

THE HUMPY BUMPER IS GOING TO BE CRASH TESTED AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY TODAY (TUESDAY). WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON ENERGY ABSORBING MATERIALS IN THE FRONT OF THESE CARS?

"I think, first of all the first thing I would do before anybody takes them seriously, they need to change that name from a Humpy Bumper to something else. When you mention the Humpy Bumper it sounds like some PR statement, but in reality that thing seems to be a well researched item. They've got the right people working on it. They've got a group of engineers that have access to sled-testing and crashing capabilities, so I think that's an area that needs some addressing and Humpy has taken the initiative to look at it. It's gonna be interesting. He's kind of like the pioneer and the first track promoter to step up and say, 'Hey, we'll try this out and let's see what happens.' So I think everyone is kind of anxious to see how it works out. Again, when they first came out with it, it sounded like more of a typical Charlotte Motor Speedway PR stunt, but if you look behind that there's actually some credibility there."

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST LAP AROUND DARLINGTON GIVEN ITS REPUTATION?

"I think by the time we got there, back in those days you had a rookie orientation and had to go watch a film. Basically, you were scared to death by the time you went on the race track. The film that they showed must have showed every wreck that happened at Darlington Raceway prior to the time I got there. I came like in the mid to late seventies and it seemed like it showed every wreck that ever happened at Darlington to scare you into the reality that this is a pretty tough place to drive. Of course, that doesn't happen this day and time because it's a different time in history. But you knew that when you went in it was a place that demanded respect and once you make the first laps around it you can see why. It is a son-of-a-gun to out there and get used to running that race track. Usually your first laps you aren't up to speed because it takes you a little while to adjust."

-Ford Racing

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Series NASCAR Cup