Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, qualified eighth for tomorrow's Protection One 400. He held a question and answer session Saturday morning in the Kansas Speedway Infield Media Center to discuss the race and other...
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, qualified eighth for tomorrow's Protection One 400. He held a question and answer session Saturday morning in the Kansas Speedway Infield Media Center to discuss the race and other issues.
RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus
WHAT ABOUT NEW TRACKS? "I guess probably the first thing when you're driving into a facility like this you look around and say, 'Somebody spent an awful lot of money building this place.' All of these facilities are nothing but first class."
WHAT ABOUT CHRISTENING THIS TRACK? "I think they had an ARCA race out here first, so we weren't actually the first ones out here, which isn't altogether that bad. Sometimes for inaugural races they've got a few bugs to work out and by the time we got here, I felt the race track was in pretty good shape. I never saw a picture of this race track before we got here and as soon as I rolled in here, to me, I felt like I was driving inside of Chicago -- especially when you came through the tunnel and saw where the motorhome lot sat. The whole layout just seemed very similar to Chicago, so that's not all bad to go to a brand new race track that you never tested and when you roll out there feel like you've been there before. It's a little more comfortable for a driver knowing that he doesn't have to get used to a new facility."
WHAT ABOUT YOU AND RUSTY AND WHAT YOU GUYS DID AFTER DOVER? "When you say, 'look what they did' hold on, let's reverse that. Let's look what Rusty did. Don't put me in that loop. Basically, I'm kind of a victim in this thing. I was basically the race leader that got taken out by a lapped car last week. I think that NASCAR needed to step in. They might have been a little late in doing so, but they did this week and I feel like everyone understands who is running the show here. Maybe that meeting should have taken place a week or so earlier, but I didn't really realize that I had any problems. We went to Bristol and we raced hard. I got into Rusty on the last lap, the last corner. He moved up half a lane, I went under him and I took the position. When the race was over, he drove in the back of me. That was a cheap shot, spinning me out after the race was over, but I didn't say anything. I just let it go. We were even, I guess, in his mind. We went onto the next weekend's race and we raced at Richmond. We raced all night long and ran first and second all night long to Rusty. We raced hard, side-by-side, and never had a problem -- just typical hard short-track racing. Then we go to the next race at Dover and Rusty is having a terribly off day, unlike that group. I don't know if it was frustrations he had that built up, but I went to pass him and he said I hit him. I'm not saying I didn't, but if I did it was totally just slight contact because he was racing the leader too hard, really. If I slipped, it was just hard racing but I don't remember even getting into Rusty. The next thing I know I passed him, he's a lap down, I drive into turn three and he drives right into my bumper and admits that he drives into my bumper. So when you say Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace, I think you need to be clear on that and kind of take me out of the loop. I feel like I'm a victim in this deal and I think NASCAR agrees, but there was a conversation that took place in the NASCAR trailer the other day and, to me, it's settled. I think everyone understands who is running the show here, so it's over with."
YOU GRABBED RUSTY BY THE UNIFORM, SO ARE YOU SHOWING YOU'RE NOT GOING TO PUT UP WITH THAT KIND OF THING? "As a competitor, I don't want to be put into that position. I think that's where NASCAR needs to step in. We don't need to policemen out there, that's NASCAR's job and they've done a good job for 26 years of my racing career. It seems like they're stepping back in, but, to me, things should never get to that point."
HOW LONG DOES SOMETHING LIKE THAT STAY WITH YOU? "I haven't been in that position. I don't think I've ever seen a lapped car blatantly and purposely take out the leader of a race. Now, he was a lap down. I had cleared him and I passed him, so that means he's a lap down. In 26 years of racing, I've never seen a lapped car purposely take out the leader, say I took out the leader and nothing is done about it. So, is it over with? I don't know. I imagine one day when I'm out of this sport I'll think back about one of the races that was basically taken away from me. You've got to go back and look, to me, this takes away from what Dale, Jr. did. Dale, Jr. won that race. He did a great job. He ran a smart race all day long. He would have won that race hands down had that race ended at the 200 lap mark. He was definitely the dominant car the first 200 laps. We were pretty much the dominant car the second 200 laps. If a caution had come out, if anything would have changed, Dale Jr. had a very good shot at winning the race anyway, but the way the scenario was unfolding the guy who really suffered in this is Robert Yates. He had a one-two finish shaping up because that last 100-lap run, the two dominant cars were the 28 and 88. I'm not even sure of what that outcome would have been. I might have won it, the 88 might have won it. There was one scheduled stop to go and had about a 30-lap race to the finish after we would have pitted for four tires, so it's hard to predict how it would have turned out. But, again, Dale, Jr. ran a smart race and I don't want it to take away from his effort. The second half of that race sort of belonged to us and the last 100 laps, the 88 was a factor."
IN A GENERAL SENSE, WHAT IS GOOD, CLEAN DRIVING, AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND WHAT'S OVER THE LINE? "It used to be a pretty clear understanding of what was accepted and what wasn't. It seems lately that it doesn't matter if it's a short track or Talladega. It doesn't seem to matter on the speeds. Good, hard racing is if a guy is holding you up and you politely let him know that you're there. Usually, the spotters will work it out. They'll get it worked out to where people don't hold each other up too much. Now it's like, you've got to go up there and rub a guy's door or something to let him know you're coming through. That's one way to do it. It doesn't seem like guys are patient enough to want to do that anymore. The first time they're gonna let you know they're being held up is when they drive over your back bumper and spin you out. That's not acceptable to me."
WHAT IS POLITELY LETTING THEM KNOW YOU'RE FASTER? "Maybe just drive up and nudge a guy. The first thing you've got to look at is you're driving this race car and you're looking in your mirror. If you're the guy holding people up, you look in your mirror and it's clear back there and then three laps later you've got a guy on your back bumper, certainly he's a much, much faster car than you are. In a 500-lap race or a 500-mile race, it doesn't make sense to try to hold somebody up when they're that much faster than you. Over the years it's always worked. I mean, there's sort of a give and take. I haven't seen it lately because it seems like there's a lot of taking and not much giving."
IS THIS THE WORST YOU'VE SEEN IT? "This is the worst I've seen it in all the years I've been racing and the season didn't start that way. It just seems like it's gotten that way since about the midway point."
HAVE THE CREWS GOTTEN OVER THIS THING? "I don't think the crews are really involved in it. We're the ones driving the race car. They work on them hard and, certainly, the disappointment on our crew was there. They've got a bonus system and that took money out of their family's mouths, so they're upset about it but it's not ongoing. The crews on both teams, I'm sure they still get along. You've got to put it in perspective. That's one of 36 races now. You can't sit there and let one race ruin your whole thought process of trying to win a Winston Cup championship. From my side of it, I've got bigger fish to fry. A tussle with Rusty, in the whole scheme of things this year, I'm not gonna let that be my main focus of attention in trying to win this Winston Cup championship."
WHY IS IT WORSE THAN EVER? "I don't have an answer for that."
IF YOU WIN THE TITLE, WILL THIS HAVE BEEN A RALLYING CRY FOR YOUR TEAM? "I don't know. I think when the season's over with, we probably won't even remember that race to be honest with you."
UNLESS YOU DON'T WIN THE TITLE OR LOSE IT BY FIVE POINTS. "Well, it cost us 15 points. We would have led the most laps. We ended up coming up short by about 20 laps on that, so it cost us five from leading the most laps and then the two positions would have been another 10, so it cost us basically 15 points."
IS THIS KIND OF STUFF HAPPENING ON THE BIG TRACKS AS WELL AS THE LITTLE TRACKS THIS YEAR? "Yeah, it's kind of surprising. Usually, you have guys that are maybe having an off year and the frustrations tend to set in. Again, I'm only speculating that maybe that's what happened to Rusty. He's not having a great year. He's having an uncharacteristic year for himself and the frustrations are there. You can see it. He had a terrible day at Dover. Usually, if the guys is frustrated you don't see that retaliation or that frustration vented until you go to a shorter track like a Martinsville or Richmond -- those type of race tracks. Now it doesn't seem to matter how fast we're running down the straightaway. Dover is probably 160-170 mile an hour straightaway with awfully hard walls. Usually, guys are more considerate. If they're gonna retaliate, it's telling me they don't really care about the other driver's safety. In the older days, you were concerned about safety. If you had something to settle or a score in the back of your mind, it took place on a shorter race track where nobody could get hurt."
IS THERE A RIGHT WAY TO GIVE SOMEBODY A TAP? "There is. I just spoke about that a moment ago. There are ways you can nudge somebody and let them know you're there and it doesn't upset their car and you go on. Then there are ways, there are cheap shots where you basically take a guy out and that's what I was talking about a while ago."
LIKE THE MIDDLE OF A CORNER, THAT'S NOT THE RIGHT PLACE? "Every race track is different. At one race track you might let a guy know you're there and you have to do it in the straightaway. At other tracks, it might be right in the center of the corner once the car is set off throttle or right when the driver starts to get back in the throttle. If you do it when he's off throttle, most of the time he's gonna loose it because he has no power to the rear wheels. So there are plenty of ways to do it and there are plenty of ways to use proper etiquette and the drivers understand that. Most of them understand that, but maybe some of them are just inexperienced at it."
DID RUSTY SAY HE WAS WRONG OR APOLOGIZE? "That was a private conversation that took place in the NASCAR trailer and I don't think that needs to be made public."
DO YOU FEEL YOU OLDER GUYS SET THE STANDARD FOR THE YOUNGER GUYS? "I don't know. These guys come to Winston Cup racing with tons of experience. Actually, they probably come to Winston Cup racing with more short track experience than we have. We run sporadic short tracks now, we don't run as many as we used to. So you can't consider them inexperienced when it comes to short track racing. They know what they've got to do. I think they probably watch to see what NASCAR's position is. If NASCAR has a position where they're not gonna be very strong on leadership, then they're gonna take advantage of that. We used to have a thing called the penalty box and I haven't heard of that in about 10 years or so, but it used to be enforced. So, I think the competitors depend on NASCAR to be the police and they depend on NASCAR to enforce the rules. If NASCAR decides to take a very loose stance on it, then they're gonna take an aggressive stance. They're gonna see that nothing is being done and it's up to us as competitors to handle it and they're gonna do so. If NASCAR takes a firm hand and uses the penalty box, then they're gonna say, 'Hey, I'm not gonna do that because it might cost me four or five laps sitting on pit road.' So you ask, 'Do the younger drivers look to us?' No, I think they look to NASCAR."
HOW MUCH DO SPONSORS GET IN THE WAY OF NASCAR MAKING THOSE DECISIONS? "I hope that sponsorship involvement isn't buying favoritism with NASCAR. I haven't seen that over the years. I can see where people could come to those conclusions, but I don't know how to answer that."
DO THERE NEED TO BE BLACK AND WHITE RULES -- NO GRAY AREAS? "I don't know how to answer that. As a competitor, I'm not gonna be able to change the system whether I think it's wrong or right. I'm out here trying to compete. Those questions probably need to be directed to NASCAR?"
BUT YOU AND YOUR WIFE HAVE RULES FOR YOUR SON THAT HAVE TO BE ENFORCED, RIGHT?
"Well, I don't know, kids have a way of working on you (laughter). So, I don't know, maybe it's the same situation."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR LAST 7 OR 8 RACES? "As the season has gone on, we've gotten more and more competitive. We started off the season finishing in the top 10 and not too many top fives, but the team came together even more solidly. Performance-wise, it seems like things have been getting stronger every week. Any track we've gone to lately, with the exception of Darlington, we've been a factor that could have won the race if circumstances had maybe gone our way. But it's just a good feeling to know that when you go to a race track you've got winning equipment. We didn't start the season as well as we would have liked, but we very quickly adjusted. The new tires kind of threw us a curve for a little bit, but it wasn't maybe four or five races in to where our guys started to get a handle on it. It's just a pleasure to get in a race car that can win any given weekend. I think we're third in the laps led category now and that's probably the highest I've been in that area in a long time. I think we've got the second-best average starting position and the second-best average finishing position. So, it's a good year. I don't know how it's gonna turn out. This championship, for certain, is not over with yet. We hope it's a championship, but, if not, these guys have nothing to hang their heads down low about. I'm very proud of the job everyone has done."
HAVE YOU LOOKED AT JEREMY'S SEATBELT FROM LAST WEEK? "I did look at it. I saw the belt that was in Jeremy's car. Gary Nelson had a briefing the other day and told us what happened. Basically, what came out of that briefing was that it doesn't matter whose brand of belt it is, make sure that they're installed right. You don't realize it, but it's very easy for these belts to get cocked in the mounting brackets and adjusting brackets. It's kind of strange that all of a sudden now we're starting to have a rash of problems, but we definitely have a problem on our hands. We were briefed on how to keep this from happening and at least keep your belts -- if your belts are in a position where they don't get cocked, they're gonna do their job. If they get cocked in the car a little bit, they're gonna fail so it doesn't matter whose belt it is. We've looked at it. We've looked at the mounting brackets in the cars. We've worked on some of that. I went to the shop this week and worked on our seat a little bit to help prevent the belt from getting into that situation where it gets at a bad angle and it causes the belt to tear. We worked on that and also switched belt companies. For the first time in my racing career I'm using a different brand of belts. That might be somewhat of a panic result of what we saw this last week, but, until all the smoke clears and we figure everything out, I'm gonna try this brand of belt." WHAT BRAND IS IT? "We've always used Simpson, but I think we've tried a Willans belt -- an English belt this week."
YOU SWITCHED THIS WEEK? "Yes, somewhere in the middle of the week before we came here."
WHAT WAS JEREMY'S BELT? "I think it was a Simpson belt, but, again, it doesn't matter whose belt it is. It seems to be more in the way you mount the belts and the way you really pay proper attention to the belt being pulled straight. It's very, very easy. It can happen just by bouncing around out there on the race track. The belt could actually get cocked in the adjusting bracket, so a lot of guys are starting to go to a belt that is non-adjustable on the left side. We haven't done that yet, we'll probably do that next week. The belts that I'm wearing now are very uncomfortable belts, compared to the Simpson belts. They're much more stiff. I've got bruises on both of my thighs where these belts are rubbing my thighs, but I'll probably stick with it this week and see how it goes."
YOU MIGHT SWITCH BELTS AGAIN? "I might switch back to the Simpson belt after hearing all the information we heard this week on the bracketry and probably go to a non-adjustable left-side belt. The belts just much more comfortable, but, again, both belts will do their job if the mounting attachments are set up correctly. I didn't realize it was so much in the attachments as it was, until I saw this briefing the other day."
WHOSE DECISION WAS IT TO CHANGE BELTS? "We were looking at different belts earlier in the season and we didn't switch. We did some research and got all the strength numbers and stuff from the testing and the data that's furnished with the belts. We looked at it and, again, the Simpson belt is probably stronger for what we're using them for. If they're mounted or they slip inside the attached bracket, the adjuster bracker, then I don't think any belt could hardly withstand that strength. Anyway, we didn't just blindly stumble into it. We looked at the test data and stuff and came up with this other brand of belt to try."
DID YOU FEEL THE BELT ISSUE WAS RESOLVED AFTER THE EARNHARDT ACCIDENT AND THE ENSUING INVESTIGATION? "I think with the Earnhardt situation, you had to think it was just an isolated and very freak accident for the belts to have gotten torn like that. There was another incident in Nashville, but then you probably figure those were older belts -- something that was laying on the shelf for a while. So you kind of discount that. You don't discount the Earnhardt situation, but you think maybe that's one of a million isolated situations. Then you turn around and you have a team like Jeremy's, that is very capable and knowledgeable of how to mount belts and there were some things wrong with the way those belts of Jeremy's were installed in the car. Where the labels are sewn onto the belts and the way Jeremy sat in his car and the way they mounted the attach bracket, the material identification of whose belt it is and the certification, happened to be right in that crevice adjustment. That is basically an accident waiting to happen. That is partially to blame for what happened to Jeremy's belt. You sort of discount the first ones, but then you look at Jeremy's deal and it confirms the wake-up call you had before. You kind of want to discount a belt breaking, but now, to me, it's telling me that this can happen. It's not a one in a million situation."
ARE THESE TEARS HAPPENING MORE NOW? "It's pretty black and white to see it. Whenever we've had a hard wreck, the belts usually would have gotten replaced in a car. But over the years I've been racing, I've never seen a tear in a belt. Why are we starting to have it now? I don't know how to answer that. Certainly, guys have been hitting these walls for many, many years and hitting them hard. Why, all of a sudden, are we having that trouble now? I can't answer that. That's some of our rationalization is, why now versus over all these years have we had belt tears. It's the same belt and the same mounting hardware. Why now? And I don't really have an answer for that."
COULD IT BE THE STIFFER FRONT END? "I don't know. I've been hitting walls for a long time in my career and it's not like I'm hitting the wall harder now than I used to. I've had my bell rung years and years ago, and I've had it rung recently so it doesn't seem to make the impact any harder than it used to be. I know there has been some concern that the cars have gotten too rigid and stiff, which would say you're hitting the wall harder, but we're going faster. Look at these race tracks. We're going a lot faster in the corners than I've ever been around here. I started my career at Charlotte and the average qualifying lap was like 153 miles and hour -- a 154 would put you on the pole. Now it's 180 and some change. So, most of that speed is certainly in the straightaway, but we're going through the corners a lot quicker so you're gonna hit the wall harder when yo're running faster."
WHAT ABOUT CHARLOTTE NEXT WEEK? "I'm looking forward to it. We tested over there and had a good test. It's one of those race tracks that we've run well at over the years, but we haven't ever won there. We've run third there, I think, is our best finish. I think in this race a year ago, we led the most laps and look like we had the race won and a caution came out with 20 laps to go and we ended up finishing fifth or something. I'm disappointed we haven't won it beofre, but I always enjoy going to Charlotte. Going home to sleep at night in your own bed is pretty neat."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR NEPHEW AND HIS RACING FUTURE? "The biggest problem they've got is it's basically gonna settle itself -- they're gonna go bankrupt before he gets a chance to go racing. Unfortunately, he's like a lot of guys around the country. He's got big dreams to go racing. He's a very successful late model stock driver in our local area, but financially they don't really have the money to do it right. They're really defeated before they get here. They never really had a fair chance. So, really, my advice is to go back and run a much cheaper division -- stay with late model stock, run ARCA races and maybe meet somebody that wants to put some money in their operation. They can't keep going like they're doing. They spent a lot of money to come here that they didn't actually have to begin with, so my advice is to go back and stay on the late model tracks and, hopefully, make some connections with somebody else who has the money to go and do it right."
YOU CAN SPONSOR HIM? "I've been down that road (laughter). I remember in 1977 when we won rookie of the year, I think we spent like $80,000 that year but we took in $70,000. That's not a big-hit year, but that was to run nearly the entire schedule. Now, that doesn't hardly get you to one race right now. My dad is trying to do it out of his pocket. He has a used auto parts salvage yard business in Chesapeake and that business isn't what it used to be, so, basically, they're going through life savings. They're not all that different than a lot of other people out here, but I try to tell them that from experience they can't do it that way. Go back and be recognized on the late model tracks. They can afford to go back and do that, and, hopefully, run across somebody that's wanting to take them to the next level. But they just don't have the money to do it out of their pocket."
WHAT KIND OF POTENTIAL DOES HE HAVE? "I've seen him test. At Lakeland, Florida we used to go down and test and he'd come in and bring a car that they had built. He's shown a lot of promise. I know he went to Myrtle Beach two years ago and there were 200 cars there and he finished fourth or fifth in that race. There were guys like Ted Musgrave and maybe Bobby Hamilton, some other names had been there and didn't make the race, and he finished fourth or fifth. So I think he's got potential. He just needs track mileage and fast equipment."
WHAT'S YOUR MINDSET NOW? "I'm just blocking out everything around me and thinking strictly about this new race track at Kansas. I'm gonna watch the Busch race real hard today, study that and watch how things flow, and basically focus on this happy hour to make sure we have our car set up for long runs."