Robert Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd are in the thick of the NASCAR Winston Cup points battle. Jarrett and Jeff Gordon will go into Sunday's race tied for the championship lead while Rudd is only 18 points behind. ...
Robert Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd are in the thick of the NASCAR Winston Cup points battle. Jarrett and Jeff Gordon will go into Sunday's race tied for the championship lead while Rudd is only 18 points behind. Both participated in a Q&A session after Saturday's happy hour.
RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus
DID YOU EXPECT TO BE WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
"Really, when our season started I expected to make a challenge, but then we had one good race and then two races with mechanical failures. We got pretty deep in the hole in points and I wouldn't say we wrote it off, but we just sort of discounted it knowing how many miles Bobby Labonte completed last year. I think he completed all but 10 miles of racing and we had already sat out maybe 300 miles of racing and we were only four or five races into the season. So we kind of wrote it off. We thought we just go out there and work on our race cars and get 'em running good and try to win some races and know we can battle back to get in the top five in the points. But to sit here at the midway point and be right there in striking distance -- 18 points is something like four positions out of the lead. I really didn't expect to be back this quick. I knew we were gaining a lot of momentum. Unfortunately, Jeff had some problems and here we are right back in the thick of things."
ROBERT YATES MUST BE HAPPY THESE DAYS.
"You would think so. Robert doesn't say a whole lot and that's usually a sign of good things. If he's in there everyday in the trenches with you, then he's working on problems. We see Robert around. Don't get me wrong, he helps us a lot, but evidently things are going pretty good because he's not there 24 hours a day with us."
THE CONSISTENCY OVER THE LAST 12 RACES, IS THAT WHAT YOU'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL ALONG?
"Yeah. We started the season and we were consistent, but we were consistent eighth to 10th or something like that. That's okay, but our goal was to step it up. I feel like eighth to 10th, that would probably win you a championship if you did that every race, but I definitely felt we needed to step up and be more competitive. We needed to have more first, second, third, fourth, fifth finishes. Our guys never quit working and they continue to work hard on the race cars. I would say somewhere right around Michigan time is where we made a step up from being fifth to 10th. Now it seems like we're more in that first to fifth category more and these guys just continue to work on the race cars. The motor program, obviously, is second to none on the circuit so I guess we realize that we could really challenge once we got to Michigan and we had such a good weekend there. We've been very competitive every race with the exception of maybe Daytona. I think we ran third for a good part of that race, but, to me, that's championship caliber when you can pretty much go out there every weekend and run in the top five with a chance to win. There are no guarantees of winning, but a chance to win."
THE LAST SIX RACES IN PARTICULAR HAVE BEEN STRONG.
"We knew, like I say, I think it was the second race at Rockingham and Texas where we had mechanical failures. We knew at that point that if we were gonna be a contender, we couldn't hardly give up anything in that stretch of races. Our guys stepped up to the plate and have been able to give us great finishes ever since those couple mechanical failures. Now you go into the season and Jeff is having some problems. He had an engine go sour last week and, I guess at Daytona also but due to an accident. So he's starting to have his problems now. To me, the key to winning this championship is gonna be keeping that level of consistency up and doing it the rest of the year without too many weak links in there. If you look at the law of averages, Gordon's gonna outrun us more than we're gonna outrun him right now. Their team is just extremely hot and fast on the race track. I think we can beat them, but the majority of time they're gonna beat us unless we continue to step up the performance. We've got to win this thing with consistency."
DID LAST WEEK'S RUN AT THE END SERVE AS A SIGNAL THAT YOU'RE GOING TO BE THERE AT THE END?
"I knew we had a fast race car. We qualified third and led a lot of the early laps of the race - something like 25 or 30 laps - and, really, I thought we were a lot better shape than what we were, but we got back in traffic and our car started to develop a push like a lot of the other cars did. Our guys went to work. Really, I think that's when they stepped up to championship caliber level because when they went to work on that race car for a majority of that race we weren't right and they kept working and searching. They changed the tires around, changed the wedge in the car around and finally toward the later stages of the race they got it dialed in. As time goes one, hopefully, we'll get dialed in a little sooner, but we never lost focus that we had the time clock ticking and that was to get to the end of the race in good track position. Our guys were able to step up and give us not only track position late in the race, but they gave us track position with good tires. Tires were not an issue last week. Some guys argued that no tires at all was better than four tires, but for our particular race car it worked good on those tires. I think that's the key -- rebounding from a car that was good in the beginning, went away in the middle stages of the race, and then came back at the end."
IF POINTS WEREN'T A CONSIDERATION WOULD YOU RACE DIFFERENTLY?
"No, I think maybe I made some mistakes at Daytona. We were running third in line at Daytona for a long, long time. I don't think any of the Fords had a chance to win that race, but we were about as good as we could hope for and then our guys radioed in and said, 'Hey, Gordon had trouble,' and DJ was back in 20th. It was nearing the end of the race and I'm sitting there starting to count points and maybe I did make a mistake at Daytona and got too conservative. Of all places, you can't get too conservative at the end of that race and that probably hurt us some. We finished 14th, but, to answer your question, there's really no pressure on our race team to do well as far as points go, so I like kind of having no pressure and just sailing into these races. Just race ourselves, don't make mistakes and don't count points. I think if we start counting points we're gonna be in trouble."
DOES THE DYNAMIC CHANGE BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE THIS CLOSE IN POINTS?
"I can speak for myself. I think the two teams have actually come together and are probably closer now than they have been since I've been with the team. I think our strategy is pretty simple. Gordon has consistently been a better car week in and week out. Our two teams have got to get better to beat him. We can't depend on breakdowns and things like that because we're gonna run into that same scenario eventually, so we've got to be better on the race track. I think, if anything, the two teams have worked closer together. To whip up on Jeff, it's gonna take two of us to get him because that team is so good right now. If anything, the two teams are working together better now than I've ever seen before."
WHAT ABOUT GOING DOWN TO THE LAST RACE?
"It's the same thing. I think you could have two cars prepared exactly identical and run exactly the same lap times, and circumstances like the pit crews and strategies -- the race itself will dictate which car comes out on top and it's not gonna be the same one every weekend. I think the teams are that equal right now. I think if we get down to that last race we can go at it like we normally would. I hope we get to that point and we're still having to worry about this. You never know. Dale has been in these things and been in contention a lot more than I've been. I've only had one year that I could compare this too and we were pretty much out of the picture in the middle of October. We were racing for it right up to that time, but then we were pretty much out of it so it didn't come down to the last race. It was a little different deal then. It was a multi-car operation, but none of the other cars were that close to the championship run so I've never been in this position before."
IS THIS TEAM WHERE WE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE WHEN YOU TOOK OVER?
"I think there were a lot of high expectations when I first went over there. I think the high expectations were there because the 28 team had been so good over the years. I put it into perspective. I knew when I went over there that me by myself wasn't going to make major differences. It took a whole combination of people and I think Robert saw that. He was in a big rebuild process and anytime you're in a major rebuild -- and when I say rebuild, I mean from changing shop locations and hiring a lot of personnel, probably 10 to 15 new people were added besides myself -- it takes time for all that to come together and jell. I owe a lot of that to Michael McSwain and Robert Yates. First of all, for Robert having trust in Michael McSwain and giving him the tools to work with to start building things up. You're talking about a major rebuild. It had been four years since that team had won a race. There were a lot of reasons why, but they just needed a bunch more people. They needed some leadership and a combination of things. To answer your question now, I look at it as a very solid race team right now and the 88 team has been a big asset there. The pattern is there for a championship team and we use that a lot. We see what they do and we've learned a lot from those guys. I think maybe because Fatback comes in with a fresh mind, that maybe he's been able to bring some things to the table that woke the 88 guys up a little bit. Yes, the expectations were there, so I'm not really concerned we're in the underdog role. I kind of like that role because that mean's there's no pressure on our guys."
"It's difficult. I can't imagine. I know it was difficult to me to see him here and what he would have to go through. I can't even imagine the emotions that are going through his mind in trying to do his job. I know there will never be a closure there because that was his son and they were so close, but I think it's good that he can come here and race. Hopefully, he'll have a great day. I think yesterday, more than I was pulling for myself to have a good lap, I was pulling for Kyle to have a good lap and just to be able to get through that. It had to be a very, very difficult day for him to be here, but it's great to see him here. I hope that everybody has kept he and Pattie in their prayers because it's a difficult time -- not only coming here but every week at the race track. There has to be something that reminds them of Adam and always will, so I'm just glad to see him here and see him in the race. Hopefully, he'll have a good day tomorrow."
WHAT ABOUT KYLE PETTY BEING HERE?
"I admire him. I couldn't do what he's doing right now. I wouldn't have the courage or the strength to do it. The unusual thing about him and Adam was the besides being father and son they were probably best friends. That was a very unique relationship they had, so it's got to be almost impossible for him to do what he's doing today. I have a lot of respect for him."
THOUGHTS ON IRWIN?
"I didn't know Kenny that well, but I remember when Ford had a seminar to bring the young drivers along, kind of a media training sesson and all. That was the first time I remember meeting Kenny and he was a sharp, young guy. I tell people all the time that Kenny was in this ride and wasn't in there a long time, but I think he had a lot more ability than he was able to showcase. Like I said, when I made the change over to Robert Yates, I don't think I would have done any better than Kenny Irwin did. It was a package deal. It took Michael McSwain and a lot of different people to come in there and sort of get that organization turned back around again. It's unfortunate that Kenny as a young driver -- I've been there myself. I remember getting bounced out of ride. Bobby Allison replaced me way back in '81. As a matter of fact, Robert fired me and hired Bobby Allison. I didn't really regret it because it was probably the right move because I wasn't ready for that caliber of a team at that point in my career. I kind of look back at Kenny and he needed a little bit of seasoning. He spent no time at all in Winston Cup, so he didn't really have a good chance to showcase what he could do and I think everybody in the garage area knew that he was talented beyond what he was doing."
DOES HAVING SEPARATE SHOPS HELP?
"When I first came aboard I didn't think it was the way to do things. I looked at the Joe Gibbs operation with Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, they pretty much run under one roof. That looked like the way to do things, but Robert had been down that road before and it didn't work. I can see reasons why. The 28 team became a distraction to the 88 team and there are very many different reasons for that. Here these guys were trying to win a championship and when you start winning championships and you've got a caliber of driver that is experienced like Dale, who is ready to challenge any week, they want to massage the race car. They want to change the look of this fender or want to change this or change that. Well, the body shop was busy fixing wrecks and they could never advance to that next level. So I could see how Robert went down that road and all of a sudden he split the teams up. From the outside looking in, it doesn't seem like it's the smart way to do it, but I've learned it's a pretty smart way to do things. To have two great race teams, even though they're not under the same roof, they tend to leap-frog one another.
"These guys do things a little differently than we do. Some days that's better and some days that's not. To me, if you're doing the same thing and you're good, that's okay. But if you're off a little bit. I know the Joe Gibbs teams are not running as well as they did last year and now you've got two of them that aren't particularly running as great as they did last year. Whereas, if you had one doing something differently, maybe one team would have continued to be strong and could have helped the other team out. As time goes on, I guess Robert is a lot smarter than I thought he was on this two-car deal because it is working right now."
WHY ARE THINGS CLICKING?
"The reason I think it's clicking right now is, first of all, I've got a lot of admiration for this guy sitting beside me. He's championship caliber and won championships. He doesn't express a lot of ego. Anytime I need something, Dale is there to help us. I feel the same way about me. I don't have the record that Dale's got, but ego-wise I guess I'm in the later part of my career and there is no egos in this business as far as having to deal between their drivers. I think sometimes that can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks is trying to come together as a group. One guy is upset because he got outrun the week before and we don't have that over here. I think that's one reason that both teams are able to run as well as they do. And we're also having a lot of fun. I'm having more fun than I've had in many, many years and it's nice not to have to deal with egos."
DID YOU THINK YOU'D HAVE ANOTHER CHANCE AT A TITLE?
"I sort of wrote that off after I left the Hendrick teams way back in the nineties. I didn't feel like we'd have another shot at a championship, at least for many, many years. When I started my own team, I knew we were sacrificing that. I couldn't have been any luckier to end up in Robert Yates' operation the way it turned out. I couldn't have planned it any better. I'm not smart enough to plan it that way, it just ended up that circumstances were such that our team was shutting down and Robert's was cranking up. It's just a good time to be a part of Robert Yates Racing."