Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion, was one of this week's guests on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference. A transcript of his portion follows: RICKY RUDD -- No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion HOW DO YOU...
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion, was one of this week's guests on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference.
A transcript of his portion follows:
RICKY RUDD -- No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN YOUR SUCCESS ON ROAD COURSES THROUGH THE YEARS? "I'm not really sure. I think it goes way back. When I was a kid, we used to race go-karts on tracks very similar to Infineon. We just never went to the west coast. We grew up on the east coast and we stayed on the east coast road courses like Road Atlanta, VIR -- tracks like that -- but seeing those tracks at a young age, I always like road racing, and then when I went to stock cars, at that time they only had maybe one or two races a year on the road courses, but, anyway, I think a lot of it had to do with as a kid growing up and having fun and liking to race on them. That was as much about it as anything as having an attitude about, 'Hey, this is different than stock car racing, but let's go ahead and have some fun."
WHAT WAS THE CHEMISTRY LIKE WHEN YOU WON AT INFINEON WITH YATES AND NOW? "It's changed quite a bit. It's a different team now than it was then. I guess Fatback McSwain was our crew chief back then and Raymond Fox, I guess he's the car chief on the 38 team, but at that time he was with us. It mainly was a different group of people and the timing was a lot different. I was coming to the end of a three-year contract at that time and there was a lot of dissention within the team, so the victory -- anytime you can win anywhere it has a way of fixing problems that are developing -- and that day I would say it was a little unusual. I'd say that victory lane was sort of bittersweet because at that time everyone knew we were going in different directions. Even though we won the race, it was sort of a happy time and kind of a sad time all mixed into one."
YOU SEEMED FRUSTRATED WITH THE DOVER RACE AND HOW THAT ENDED WITH DAVID. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT COMING BACK AND BEING A MENTOR TO HIM? "As far as Dover, it was more the emotion of when we got wrecked -- we were about 25 laps from the end of the race -- and we just didn't have a good day at Dover. We didn't run well and that's a track that I always like to go to and we're always very competitive. David and I were about even cars that day and we were racing for position late in the race. If David was guilty of anything, he was trying too hard. He actually moved down on the race track to let me pass and when he moved down -- because I was faster than him at the time -- he moved down and at the same time he moved down, he picked the worst spot in the world to do it because when he moved down there's a really slick spot coming off of turn four and when he turned down to let me go by, it broke his car loose and when he broke loose he overcorrected and came back and hit me and took me out of the race. It wasn't any frustration with David it was just the day and having Dover always usually be a good race track for us and we struggled there that day. To get 25 laps from the end of the race and end up getting torn up because out car of tomorrow program has probably suffered the most at Yates Racing and we're still working on it. Those cars take so long to build that we don't have a whole fleet of them. We're very short on car count for that, so it was a car we couldn't afford to lose and I think we ended up destroying it."
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITES THIS WEEKEND? "It would be hard. There are a lot of good guys out there with good equipment. The car of tomorrow is a new variable in the equation. You've got a fleet of ringers that they bring in -- Boris Said and I'm assuming Ron Fellows will be out there and more guys who definitely know how to get it done on a road course. But as far as picking a favorite, I would just go back and look at the last couple of previous winners out there. I'd be a little apprehensive about making predictions based on that because of the car of tomorrow, which is a different driving race car than what we're used to running out there. It's really getting back to, you've got to look at the Hendrick camp. They've sort of dominated the car of tomorrow events, so you'd have to definitely put that group in a list of favorites."
DO YOU FORESEE A WIDE OPEN RACE? "Yeah, I think that's the best way to word it. I would hate to go there and wager money on a favorite out there just because you've got too many variables. A lot of these guys that have been road racing and traditionally haven't done very well, but yet they've run more road races than they have in a long time. I guess some of the guys went to Mexico City and then you've got guys that I've seen it happen before where guys aren't particularly good on road courses and all of a sudden they show up four or five years later after running road courses and the next thing you know they're battling for a win and they haven't done that before. It's really hard to pick a favorite. Fuel strategy and all kind of things play into mind there and it's a tough race track. It's a very physical race track, but I'd be scared to death to try to pick a favorite for you."
CAN RYR GET CAUGHT UP WITH THESE COT CARS? "I think the only way to get from behind that eight ball is to test, test, test and to come up with programs where you just don't go out there to run laps. You come to the race track in a test mode and be prepared to make a lot of geometry changes to your chassis and be creative and be open-minded, but it means a lot of test time. I will say this, we've been to VIR -- and a couple of weeks back we spent two days over there in that session and it went OK, but it didn't go exactly like we needed it to and we went back another day, so we've got three days at VIR, which doesn't guarantee you success at Infineon, but we ran well the last day we were there at VIR. The tracks are so much different, but we did exactly that. We went through a lot of built-in geometry changes and found some things that we liked, that we think will work for us at Infineon, but we really won't know until we get to the race track and get on the track on Friday. As far as the test program at Yates, there's no question about it, our car of tomorrow program has been behind quite a bit and we've been playing catch-up ever since. The only thing I can say is at VIR things went pretty well compared to the other cars that were testing -- some good teams were there. The speeds looked good, but the big thing at Infineon is, 'will the car stay good?' And that's been something we've been struggling with on those cars."
AS FAR AS DAVID GILLILAND GOES, TONY STEWART SUGGESTED LAST WEEK AFTER THEIR PRACTICE INCIDENT THAT HE MIGHT NEED MORE TIME IN THE MINOR LEAGUES. DO YOU THINK DAVID BELONGS IN NEXTEL CUP? "I think he definitely belongs and let me kind of clear up something here. Tony is Tony. What else can you say? You can't question his driver ability. Everybody knows he's one of the best if not the best out there, but he kind of has a habit of running his mouth at the wrong time. David got blamed for that wreck, but that wasn't David's fault. No one ever came around and asked anybody else what happened, but the videotaped clearly shows what happened and Tony screwed up. He just misjudged his distance and ran into the back of David. David doesn't really have a presence out here. He can't fight that battle, but I can tell you one thing, that was not David Gilliland's fault the other day. But the media seemed to jump on it and wrote it the way Tony spoke it, but, anyway, that being said, David definitely belongs in Cup racing. He has all the talents and he adapts quicker than anybody I've ever seen when we go to a strange race track. He's right up to speed immediately. Our program and our team is not where it needs to be yet. They've been working very hard trying to get there and they're making progress, but I think before you can make a judgment on David, the whole thing has to come together. Our speedway program is second to none. Our Daytona and Talladega stuff, there's not a team out there that has better speedway stuff, and if you look at it that way -- and that's the only really fair chance David's had this year -- and he's been very competitive in all those races. He's run extremely well."
CAN A ROOKIE LIKE MONTOYA BE SUCCESSFUL AT INFINEON? "I think Juan can definitely be competitive at Infineon. I don't know if it's his Formula One experience. In a lot of ways, that can probably be a detriment because those cars are so light and agile compared to a heavy Cup car, but I would not rule him out, especially based on what I saw at Mexico City. At least 95 percent of your passing is done under braking for the corners at Infineon and that's where he excels. Nobody drives any deeper in the corners and gets by with it like Juan, so I'd definitely put him in there as being one of the favorites. To answer the question, 'Can he adapt since he's relatively new to this sport?' If there's a place that he's gonna shine, it's gonna be at Infineon and Watkins Glen."
ESPN SHOWED HIGHLIGHTS OF THE '89 RACE WITH RUSTY. IS THAT ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE MEMORIES OF SONOMA? "I remember it turned out well for us. I remember that. It was touch-and-go there for a little while, but, to me, that was a lot of fun back when we had the bias ply tires and the cars bounced around and moved around a lot. We spent half of the time with two wheels in the dirt as you did on the race track. Not to say that it's not the same now, but the transmission in these cars has definitely evened up the competition, which came around shortly after that race -- probably in the early nineties -- which allows drivers to brake with their left foot, which means no extra coordination has to take place with heel-toe downshifting, so I kind of miss those days because it eliminated a lot of the competition."
THE '92 RACE WITH IRVAN BEING BLACK-FLAGGED AND THEN COMING FROM THE BACK TO WIN WAS MEMORABLE. WILL THAT EVER HAPPEN AGAIN, ESPECIALLY WITH THE COT? "It's hard to say. The car of tomorrow, the guys that figure it out what I've seen is it's a tremendous advantage for those that hit that combination, where are very few, just right, and then there are a lot of guys that are OK, and then a bunch of them that miss the setups altogether. I could see the chance of somebody hitting on a dominant setup like Ernie and his team did back in the early nineties and he was definitely the class of the field that day for sure. There's no other way to prove it than to do it the way they did it. They didn't get it easy. It wasn't the circumstances of pit stops that put him up there, he just raced his way through the field."
DO YOU STAY IN TOUCH WITH ERNIE? "I see him around a little bit. I saw him at Michigan. He was up there doing a charity walk that he does to raise money for the head injury foundation and he looked good. He looked healthy."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BILL FRANCE JR. NOT BEING AT DAYTONA IN A FEW WEEKS? WILL THERE BE AN EMPTY FEELING? "Bill definitely had a presence in our sport for many years and then as his health declined we saw less and less of him. We were sort of, I guess, being weaned from his presence. We missed seeing him. Like I said, he was a guy you could go up and have a really good conversation with about the sport and where it's headed and walk away from there feeling like, 'Hey, we've got a guy here who is really leading us. He's a strong leader.' He definitely will be missed. Unfortunately, his health was declining in the later years and we didn't see that much of him the last couple of years, but he definitely will be missed."
HOW TOUGH DO YOU THINK IT IS FOR YOUNG DRIVERS TO BALANCE COMPETITIVENESS AND THEIR INEXPERIENCE? "I will say this that there's been no better time in the history of racing where a young guy gets a chance to sort of prove himself. The downside of that is if you don't prove yourself or do remarkable things on the race track, then it seems like your job is in jeopardy as quickly as you get here, so there's a lot of pressure on these guys to perform once they do get here. Like I say, there's a lot of pressure there but they're getting the opportunities. It's tough on them. Not only do they have to learn how to drive the race cars and race tracks and how to handle the media, there's a lot of things on their shoulders. It's a lot different coming along now as a young driver than when I came along, but I necessarily wouldn't want the pressure that these guys have got."
HOW MUCH DOES IT HELP THAT THERE IS MORE EFFORT ON DRIVER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS? "I think what it's doing is showing the way of the future. At one time you sort of had to come from a certain rank -- generally stock car racing at your local track -- and it was a pretty lengthy process to get yourself recognized and get to a certain point. You would never go to top equipment. You had to work your way through the Cup division. You might get lucky to get a ride in a C-type effort and after years of proving yourself, you might get a shot at a B level. Nowadays, these guys are being recognized at the early stages and they're being put into a regular training environment where they can showcase their talents and by the time they get to Cup, they're pretty prepared. At least they're used to running the big tracks and such, whereas years ago they didn't get a chance to see the big tracks until their first opportunity to show up in a Busch car."
HOW MUCH DID YOU MISS RACING LAST YEAR? "To be honest, in the early going I didn't miss it at all. I enjoyed the time off. I didn't really follow the sport -- not because I didn't want to, we were just so busy doing everything and just catching up on life. It wasn't until probably September, October -- right in that area -- that I was fooling around with my go-karts and playing with those a lot and decided to run a race, which I hadn't done in about 35 years, and I think that sort of got the taste going again when we ran a kart race right outside of Indianapolis. That kind of got it going and then I started missing it."
WERE YOU COMING BACK REGARDLESS OF THE TEAM? "There were a lot of opportunities when I first stepped aside early on in January and February, but mainly it was with programs that would be coming on for the 2008 season and not for the '07 season. Some of it was '07 season, limited schedule stuff, but I really put all those plans on hold. I told the team honors, 'I'm honored that you're talking to me about that, but I've got to figure out what I want to do first before it's fair to sit down and talk seriously about driving your race car." The Yates situation came in around October or November and about that time I realized I was ready to go back to competition. At that time of the season there aren't that many opportunities available that late in a season, so as it turns out, the Yates camp called and they were in a major rebuilding process and I felt like I could help contribute to helping get that program turned around a little bit."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE CONSECUTIVE START RECORD TO YOU? "I think right now the number is running up there, but it's not consecutive anymore. But I think at that time I hadn't thought that much about it, but with it being brought aware by the media and such that the record was getting ready to be broken, I think it's a pretty neat record because consecutive means day in and day out -- good, healthy, unhealthy, sick -- it doesn't matter, we were still there and we made it happen and kept the consecutive streak going through injuries and so on. But if you look at the honor of the people before me you have to be in awe. Terry Labonte and I think Richard Petty, if I'm not mistaken, was the guy that had it before them so it's a big honor to be in that company."
WHAT ARE THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES WITH THE COT ON A ROAD COURSE? "I went to VIR just to answer those questions, not only for what the team needed to know but what I needed to know as a driver. The car at VIR, which is a relatively smooth race track, it wasn't a huge difference. They didn't drive quite as well. They didn't stick in the corners quite as well and they didn't get the forward traction -- we fought that quite a bit -- but overall the feel was very similar. We cut through the esses and the cars feel very similar. The car of tomorrow doesn't like a track that has a high bank or a lot of bumps in it, especially on a high bank. That presents the most problem because one of the bigger differences is that you're limited to your suspension travel because of that front valance on these car of tomorrows with the splitter. You have a little bit less than I think half of the normal suspension travel that we would normally get, so bumps and banking tend to aggravate that, but more of the banking than the bumps."
ANY SOLID PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR? "No, not really. I haven't thought that far ahead. We've been struggling and trying to get our program together right now. We've had a few good things happen, but we're still struggling trying to get going. Our performance is getting better on the race track, but not to the level that we need to be. We're not nowhere near where we need to be to contend for top 10's on a regular basis. We did finish seventh at Charlotte and had a good run there, but this Snickers Ford team is working and they're going at it as hard as they possibly can. I see progress, but I think until we see some good things happen on the race track because the team has gotten stronger, I don't think until that time it's time to talk about next year, really."
INFINEON IS A GOOD TRACK FOR YOU. WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES SUNDAY? "I'd hate to even put any kind of odds on it. I was telling someone earlier that with the nature of that race track, you've got a car of tomorrow thrown into the equation, it would be hard to pick a favorite. I think we're gonna be good, don't get me wrong, but sitting down to predict wins is pretty hard to do. I think anybody, even the guys that are used to winning out there, it's gonna be hard to predict wins because the car of tomorrow is different from what they normally run, so they can't just roll out their old setups and roll out their old cars that they sort of pushed aside and brought out twice a year. That car doesn't exist now. Guys are going with different equipment than they've run ever, so I'd hate to pick a favorite."
TERRY LABONTE IS RUNNING THIS WEEK. HOW HARD IS IT TO STAY RETIRED WHEN OWNERS WANT EXPERIENCED GUYS TO COME BACK? ARE YOU SURPRISED TERRY CAME BACK? "No, I'm not surprised. I think it was last year that he finished second or third, but Terry is what I call a true road racer. If they gave us the old style transmissions, Terry would still be competitive. I think Terry is coming out there because he loves road racing and he loves road racing in a Cup car. I think he'll do very well. I don't think his time away will hurt him at all. What I noticed for me is that I looked forward to going up to VIR, not so much as a test day just to see what our new equipment would do, but really to test myself and get myself back in the rhythm of road racing. That first day, I probably spent the first three outings just trying to get familiar with everything again, and then it's like that old bicycle. It was like, 'I remember how to do this now.' Without that test session, I would not have liked to have gone to Infineon without any practice or any tune-up for the driver, and I'm sure Terry's got some seat time somewhere just to pin himself up, but I'm sure he'll be right on his marks when he gets there."
-credit: ford racing