INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, July 21, 2000 -- NASCAR Winston Cup Series veteran Ricky Rudd doesnâ€™t have to seek sponsors this racing season. Or pay bills. Or hire and fire employees. All he has to do is drive the Robert Yates-owned No.
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, July 21, 2000 -- NASCAR Winston Cup Series veteran Ricky Rudd doesn’t have to seek sponsors this racing season. Or pay bills. Or hire and fire employees. All he has to do is drive the Robert Yates-owned No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford. It’s a good feeling. Rudd, winner of the 1997 Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, comes to this year’s event, Aug. 5, for the first time solely as a driver. The inaugural Brickyard 400 took place in 1994. That also was the first year that the affable Rudd branched out and became a team owner as well as driver. The six-year stint had its high mark with the ’97 Brickyard victory, but then the worry about the financial end of the operation began to diminish his success on the track. Last year, for the first time in 17 years, Rudd did not win a race. So at age 43, Rudd decided it was time to put his total concentration into the racing end of the sport once again. At the same time, Yates was looking for a new driver of the famed No. 28 car and begin rebuilding the second half of his team. Defending Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett drives the other Yates-owned car. “I guess the biggest difference is a whole lot of responsibility,” said Rudd, who clocked a second-day top speed of 179.592 mph July 18 during Ford testing at the Speedway. “You’re not worrying about the money side of the sport. “I had a lot of families and kids, a lot of people depending on me for their livelihood. A lot of responsibility came with ownership. “I wouldn’t really say it is more than I anticipated in the beginning, but as we went into the longer term it was six years as an owner. The early years, when we had the financial resources that were on scale with everybody else, it went pretty smooth. When the money got tight in the later years, it was very hard and very difficult to do.” In the early and mid-1990s, Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan contended for Winston Cup titles in the Texaco/Havoline car before Allison lost his life in a helicopter crash and Irvan suffered severe injuries in a crash at Michigan Speedway. The most experienced members of the team that had worked with the car during its best seasons had migrated elsewhere, Rudd said. Some moved over to help Jarrett to become NASCAR’s most dominant driver last year, while some became crew chiefs for other teams, and some just moved on. “Right now, there’s a few people left from when the 28 car was winning lots of races,” Rudd said. “Robert Yates realized he had to rebuild this team. And I think that’s where I fit in place. He’s probably going with a more senior guy, more experienced guy in the seat, going with a fairly young crew chief (Mike McSwane) (and) a lot of new guys.” Rudd, from Chesapeake, Va., started with a commendable 15th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. Then the team went through some growing pains during the spring portion of the season. But in recent races, Rudd has been a serious contender for a top-five finish. Heading into the Pennsylvania 500 on July 23 at Pocono International Raceway, Rudd holds eighth in the Winston Cup standings with 2,419 points. But he’s only 30 behind seventh-place Jeff Burton and 37 behind fourth-place Ward Burton. He hasn’t won a race, but has six top-five finishes and nine in the top 10, winning $1,290,799. “We’ve had some mistakes along the way,” Rudd said about the season thus far, “but all in all, the team is ahead of schedule. I didn’t expect to be halfway through the season and only 250 points out of the lead, either.” Dueling for a top-five finish in today’s stiff competition is a difficult task because there are so many good organizations, Rudd said. He noted that not too many seasons ago a driver who stayed on the racetrack without encountering any major problems and finished the race usually would be in the top 10 at the checkered flag. “Well, that isn’t the case anymore,” he said. “You’ve got to race your butt off to finish in the top 20. So a top five is very welcome.” Much was made about how Rudd won the ’97 Brickyard by getting better fuel mileage in his Tide Ford as he beat out the faster machines of Bobby Labonte and Jarrett. He admits that fuel consumption was a factor. But he quickly points out that he still had a very fast car that day. “All that day did was give us track position,” he said. “We didn’t stay out, and some guys ran short. We had good enough car for a top two or three. Probably wouldn’t have won the race.” So far only four drivers have won the Brickyard 400 - two-time winners Jeff Gordon and Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt and Rudd. The best finish by Yates’ #28 car is second with Irvan at the wheel in 1996. Rudd thinks he can give the car its first victory at Indy and become the third two-time Brickyard winner. “This car lately has been running good on the flat tracks,” he said. “Pocono is sort of a comparison track to this place.” Rudd qualified third, finished third and had a shot at winning at Pocono in June. “Very good effort there,” he said. “And the same car will run here at Indy. I’m real optimistic about the race setup.”