Rudd relieved as streak, season end By Marty Smith Hampton, Ga. (Nov. 22, 1999) Several fruitful installments in the Ricky Rudd autobiography were closed Sunday following the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, making room for what could...
Rudd relieved as streak, season end By Marty Smith
Hampton, Ga. (Nov. 22, 1999) Several fruitful installments in the Ricky Rudd autobiography were closed Sunday following the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, making room for what could potentially be the most prosperous chapter yet. Rudd finished seventh in the millennium's final event this past weekend, marking the first time in nearly two decades the Virginia native concluded a season without at least one victory. His 16-year win streak -- which ended Sunday -- is unprecedented in NASCAR's storied modern era.
"When you look at how competitive Winston Cup racing is, it's pretty amazing to think that he's won a race for 16 years in a row," said Larry McReynolds, crew chief for the No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet. "It's truly an amazing accomplishment."
The streak began on June 5, 1983 when Rudd won at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway, and concluded Sunday when he failed to win at AMS. His final victory during the streak came on Sept 27, 1998 when he won the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway following one of the gutsiest performances in NASCAR history.
During that race last season on the Virginia short track, the coolant system in Rudd's fire suit malfunctioned. That, coupled with 140 degree-plus temperatures inside the car and an extra layer of clothing, blistered the entire backside of the driver's body.
He gladly would've suffered similar torture this season if it meant he'd continue the streak, but in the end he wasn't granted the opportunity. And, while he sorely wanted to see it continue, he is also relieved that the coinciding pressure has subsided.
"To be honest with you, I'm just glad it's over with," Rudd said. "Operating on three hours of sleep a night for the last couple of months while trying to get our stuff together for the auction that's coming up and trying to get things in tune for next year and shutting down three businesses, I'm just glad it's over.
"I wished it would have ended on a winning note, but we went down trying and trying awful hard. We didn't quite come up with a victory this year, we got two or three third-place finishes, but I'm real proud of the way the season finished."
After six full seasons, Rudd Performance Motorsports will officially close its doors next week. Rudd will hold an auction on Dec. 1-2 to sell off everything he owns. Soon thereafter, Robert Yates' No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford operation moves into the RPM shop, prompting a fresh start in 2000 in one the most coveted rides in all of racing. In fact, he's already talking championship.
"I wished it would have ended on a winning note, but we went down trying and trying awful hard." — Ricky Rudd "I think everything is in place," said Rudd, contemplating the thought of a first-ever championship. "We've got that chemistry with (crew chief Michael) 'Fatback' McSwain and that's clicking really good. We're taking our shop foreman with us, we're taking about seven or eight guys with us and kind of making an all-star team on the 28. Robert hasn't gotten rid of any of his people, so that's gonna be a strength on that 28 team."
Rudd's 1999 campaign can be summed up using an old spring season adage -- he entered the year like a lamb, but roared out like a lion. The No. 10 Ford team recorded just three top-15 finishes in the first 20 races. However, a season-best ninth-place run at the Brickyard triggered a run of five top-10 finishes in the final 14 events, including third-place runs at Martinsville and Talladega.
"We had a really strong finish at the end of the season and no regrets," said Rudd, whose six-year relationship with sponsor Tide ended Sunday as well. Procter & Gamble's laundry detergent company opted to part ways with Rudd and latch onto Cal Wells' new operation next season.
"We struggled, we gave 120 percent, built a lot of new cars," Rudd said. "Obviously, we would have liked to have gone out with a win this year, but we really didn't get going until after the midway point in the season. Michael 'Fatback' McSwain came on board as crew chief and, in all fairness to him, he didn't have a really good chance on it.
"We built a lot of new cars late in the season and this is what we're running here now. Had we started the season like we ended the season I feel like we'd probably be sitting here with a victory, but I'm looking forward to great things at Robert Yates Racing. I couldn't be happier to be teamed up in that Texaco/Havoline car with Dale Jarrett as a teammate and I think we can help both teams next year."
Whether or not Rudd helps Yates remains to be seen, but it has already been proven that Yates will help Rudd. In each of his three top-5 runs this year, Rudd had a Yates engine underneath the hood of the No. 10 Ford.
"I've heard the old adage that there's no substitute for horsepower and that's true," Rudd said. "Obviously, that's not gonna win you races by itself, but you can sure lay it to rest that if you go out there (with Yates' motors) and you're not running good it's not because you have a lack of power under the hood."
And, with that power, teamwork and chemistry at his disposal, Rudd is in position to have the finest season of his 25-year career.
A new chapter waits to be written.