Rudd has the best of all worlds with Yates By Marty Smith DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 20, 2000) Ricky Rudd never imagined he'd have it so good at Robert Yates Racing. In fact, he almost declined the opportunity to drive the star-crossed No. 28 ...
Rudd has the best of all worlds with Yates By Marty Smith
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 20, 2000) Ricky Rudd never imagined he'd have it so good at Robert Yates Racing. In fact, he almost declined the opportunity to drive the star-crossed No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford -- arguably the most sought after ride in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
However, after letting go of pride and latching on to common sense, Rudd is now ready to resurface as a championship contender in NASCAR 2000.
For five years, Rudd owned, operated and drove every aspect of Rudd Performance Motorsports and its No. 10 Tide Ford. During that time, he was highly successful, winning a race in every season until his record 16-year streak was broken last year, and finishing in the top-10 in points three times. Over the past two seasons, however, Rudd struggled to field a competitive team and RPM slipped into mediocrity right underneath him.
In the wake of his decline Tide -- one of NASCAR's long-term sponsors -- left Rudd for Cal Wells' newly-formed team and, after several unsuccessful attempts to land new funding, Rudd reluctantly opted to close the doors.
It would turn out to the best decision of his life, which he confirmed on Thursday during a pre-season Ford test session for Speedweeks 2000 at Daytona International Speedway.
"Now, it's like the best of both worlds," Rudd said. "Everything I loved about racing I kept and everything I despised about it is gone. There are headaches with running any business. I don't have to worry about that any more. It came time to go get on the airplane to do the test.
"Instead of me being involved in the logistics of rental cars being available when we get there and if there are hotels -- we got people that used to do all that but I still was right in the middle of it because plans were still changing coming and going -- now I make one phone call and they call me or send me a fax telling me to be in the airport Monday.
"I only have to worry about myself, not 15 or 20 other people. So, those are some of the things I'm talking about as far as excited about leaving the headache factors behind. Sometimes you can just lack in one little area and it can throw your whole routine off.
"Our pit crew, even though as hard as we tried, we could make a few substitutions, we never got what I call a first string pit crew. We might have a first stringer that could make it on one of the big teams, but we might have had five other guys that might have carried that guy down to a B level instead of an A level.
"So we never did have that whole thing to click together. There are many, many reasons why this team is a step up from where I was. We had quality people, but we did not have enough of them. The motor program, you cannot say enough about that. Everything is there -- we have just to pull it together and make it work."
That shouldn't be a major problem. If there's one outfit that has it together, it's the defending NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford team with crew chief Todd Parrott and driver Dale Jarrett, who just happen to be Rudd's teammates. With their help, and the help of his best pit crew in years, Rudd plans to place the No. 28 Ford in Victory Lane for the first time since Ernie Irvan drove to the checkers at Michigan in 1997.
"I think this team probably has all the potential in the world and there are no guarantees obviously in anything," Rudd said. "But when you have the Robert Yates organization with a solid motor program, we got a good taste of that at the end of last year, it really picked our team's performance up.
"I think Dale Jarrett and I go back about 15 years. I have a lot of respect for Dale and his family. I think the chemistry is in place to do great things. Now is just up to us to go out and do it."
Rudd began his tenure at RYR last week in a test at Talladega, one the entire team was extremely pleased with. They hope to continue that improvement Thursday and Friday in the final "mandatory" Ford Motor Company test at Daytona. And, now more than ever, when he slides behind the wheel of his new ride, there is but one thing on his mind -- driving.
"As a driver it is just a welcome change for me to be able to come in and not having to worry about anything but driving that race car," Rudd said with a grin, after running 186.239 mph the first morning of the test. "It's been different already in two test sessions. They have gone very, very well. We have run fast on most test sessions and the communication seems to be clicking. We brought about eight people (from RPM) and Robert Yates kept all the existing people. So they have the addition of eight people we brought with us.
"I feel like they are our eight best people. We had some talented guys, and we won some races. We keep that good group of eight and merged them with the Texaco team and that is where it is going to take a little while, but the chemistry is really clicked well. You could not have asked for it to blend better. I just feel like we are prepared better than I have ever been prepared on any race team that I have been with in many, many years."
And to think he almost declined the offer.