Ricky Rudd: Many would say that Dover is a challenging track where you have to be smart, patient along with having a good car. When you win at Dover at the end of the day you can say you've really done something. Would you agree with ...
Many would say that Dover is a challenging track where you have to be smart, patient along with having a good car. When you win at Dover at the end of the day you can say you've really done something. Would you agree with those thoughts?
RUDD: "Yea, but it's not quite as important as it used to be when it was 500 miles as far as patience goes. It's more of a sprint race now than it used to be. Because of that, I think the fans see a more exciting race. It used to be a very long race and you had to treat it like an endurance race. With that last 100 miles gone, it's more of a sprint and you don't have the option of just riding until you get to lap 400 and then race hard. Dropping that 100 miles did change the pace of the race quite a bit."
Going from the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600, to a race you're calling a sprint, is that more of a relief for you?
RUDD: "Well, the concrete at Dover makes it very interesting. It's probably the best concrete track we run because there is side-by-side racing at Dover. Dover doesn't start off as a two-groove track, but about 150 miles into the race for the second grove to come in. Then it really gets exciting as far as the racing goes.
"Charlotte turned out being a sprint race for us because we had a flat tire early in the event and had to run 120 percent all night long to try and get our lap back. We finally did that late in the race. Typically, that 600-mile race is not a sprint race, but because of our situation it became a sprint race.
"Dover is an exciting track; very similar to Bristol. It can take a toll on equipment. You have to make sure you've got the car prepared well. The track there does tend to shake and rattle the car a little."
You've been a driver only for less than two years; does it seem like ages ago when you were wearing both the owner and driver hats and what are your days like now?"
RUDD: "It does seem like it's been a lot longer than that. I'm in my second season now as just a driver after six years as both. It's really nice. The schedule is still pretty grueling with the pace we have to go at. It would be even more difficult being an owner/driver, especially an active owner as I was. There just doesn't seem like there would be enough hours in a day. Now, my days get filled up, but not in the management role. I'll leave that to Robert Yates, Doug Yates and Michael McSwain; they handle all the day-to-day headaches. It's a very nice refreshing way to go racing now. At times it feels like I'm not doing my job because I have a little bit of free times on my hands."
Michael was in the NASCAR trailer fighting for your photo finish between sixth and seventh at the end of the race. In the end it was seventh and he was still happy to be only 144 points out of first in the points. Do you feel his enthusiasm and do you share that same enthusiasm?
RUDD: "Yes, the enthusiasm is definitely there. At the beginning of the season we had a couple of mechanical failures - a gear failure at Rockingham, an engine failure at Texas and a flat tire at Las Vegas. To be honest with you after the first five or six races, we had the championship kind of written off. Now, here we are 144 points out of the lead and only 69 out of second. So, we're in this thing as are a lot of other teams. It's really exciting to see that it's in reach of us again. A couple of good breaks for us, or a couple of bad races for others and we could find ourselves in the lead."
Is this the most confidence you've had this far into a season with this team behind you?
RUDD: "I think everything is going good as far as a championship run goes. We've been really consistent -- we've been good on the superspeedways, good on the short tracks and good just about everywhere we've been. We need to maybe be just one notch better and be in position to win every race. It seems like every three or four races we're a factor to win and then a couple later we're a factor again. We need to see if we can get there for every race.
Sunday night we had a good run. A freak situation put us a lap down early. On the first caution there are 43 cars on the racetrack and I'm the one who finds a piece of debris with a flat tire. That handicapped us a little. Those are the circumstances we've had to overcome. But as far as being able to challenge for a championship, I think we're in the middle of it as good as anyone. We would like to be able to get up there and lead a few more laps; but I think as the year goes on we'll be able to do that."
You've been around NASCAR for a long time. Is it still as enjoyable today as it was years ago?
RUDD: "The years do fly by. I started racing Winston Cup when I was 18-years-old. Most of the drivers then were much older when they reached the level of experience where they got into Winston Cup. They were usually in their late 20's or early 30's. I got an early start. Age-wise, I'm in there with Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte. I probably outrank them in Winston Cup experience because of my early start. To answer your question, to me, the only part I enjoy about racing is when you're competitive and have a chance to win an event. If you're out there limping around trying to gain points, I guess that's part of the job but I don't think anyone enjoys that. When we're competitive and have a chance to win I enjoy it as much as anytime before. I was telling Robert Yates the other day if we had a car like we did at Martinsville every day, I'd pay him instead of the other way around."
What are some of the major changes in the sport that jump out at you?
RUDD: "I would say it's just how big the sport has grown. It slowly happened so you don't notice it all at once. All of a sudden you wake up and look around and there are a couple of hundred thousand people in the stands and a long line of people wanting an autograph. That happened over a long period of time, it kind of snuck up on us and it's almost overwhelming. If you took someone from 20 year ago and put him in our environment today they would just be in awe of how big this sport has become.
I think the key has been the fan support. That's really what makes our sport work -- it's the fans involvement. The things like the Winston Million keeps the fan interested, plus exciting races. The number one thing fans are coming to see is exciting racing. If the races remain exciting, there is no telling where we could end up. The attention level that the sport receives now is just amazing."
Do you find that gratifying?
RUDD: "To be honest, I'm not one to go out and seek the limelight. I'm kind of a low profile type person. It's going on all around me but I'm not mixed up in the middle of all of it. I'm there to race and take care of the loyal fans that have supported me over the years. Then, the rest of the time my number one loyalty is with my family. Anytime I can find time to spend with them, I will do it. A lot of times it's at the sacrifice of making some extra side-money like a lot of guys make."
If you win the championship, that would be like a double-edged sword?
RUDD: "Yea, we'll just pack the family up and do all the necessary events as a family. Again, I think the key to survival in the sport is to try and eliminate the stress factors as best you can. I call it the burnout factor. I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that without damaging the career on the other side."
You talked about the frustrations as a driver/owner. What are some frustrations you've had as just a driver?
RUDD: "I guess maybe the rebuilding process that we've had to do with the 28 Texaco/Havoline team. It was a major rebuilding process and I realized that we had our work cut out for us. I would say, the patience to take time to do a major overhaul of the team. We had a lot of very good people but we're all so anxious to get it all going. I've been on the ownership side to construct a team. It takes a long while to get it to championship form. You hand pick people along the way. I guess the biggest thing has been to have the patience to see this team to the top level, where it has become now."
Have you ever thought about any other forms of racing that you'd like to pursuit?
RUDD: "I guess when I was a kid coming up I raced go-carts and the normal way there would be to go from 120 mile per hour carts into some form or open-wheel racing. A lot of my friends went on to race Indy car racing. At that time, when I was young I was ready for Indy. I didn't really know anything about stock car racing. I blindly stumbled Winston Cup racing. It was around 1975, I was 18 years old and it was my first race. I had never been to a stock car race, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't even know what all the flags meant. I went from a go-cart one weekend to a Winston Cup car the next. After being involved in it, I realized that I had a lot to learn and that there were enough challenges in Winston Cup without having to even think about going Indy car racing.
"I don't think my career would have been as long as it's been had I gone Indy car racing. Generally those guys in that time era would get broken up pretty badly to where it would eventually end their careers earlier. I have no regrets, but early on there was a desire to run Indy cars, but not anymore."
Take us back to Sunday and take us through your race?
RUDD: "It was odd circumstances that happened to us. The first caution came out about lap 10 or 15 into the race, it was an accident on the front straightaway. We ran around about 10 laps or so under caution. We restarted the race and I went down into turn one and the car wouldn't turn. I had a flat right front tire and had to pit under green. We went down more than a lap and a half. We had to work all night long to get that lap back.
"We spent most of the event a lap down. We were able to stay ahead of the leader most of the night. Sometimes we were as much as a straightaway ahead, but we could never get the caution to come out when we needed it until about 500 miles into the race. That put us back onto the lead lap.
"The bad part was that it was our final stop and we were back in about 15th spot on the restart. We moved up to seventh, actually a photo finish for sixth. Basically we ran out of time. I don't know if we could have won the race but were a top-three car and ran in front of the leader most of the night."
You got involved in racing so young. Was there a time in your life when you thought about what you would do instead of racing?
RUDD: "That's a tough question because I grew up like a lot of us in professional sports knowing what I wanted to do. I was eight or nine years old and racing go-carts professionally, then motorcycles. So, I never had any thoughts about anything else.
"I guess in hindsight, if I had to look back and go out and get a real job it would probably be in the aviation field. I'm a pilot and I like flying. I don't think I would have been satisfied with just an average flying job, it probably would have been some kind of military combat situation. I would have enjoyed that."
What do you attribute the growth of NASCAR to and do you think it can continue?
RUDD: "I think the growth is a combination of things. Good racing over the years is a big part of it. Then, the coverage you guys have given us over the years has put our sport out in front of the fans. The national television exposure when ESPN and TNN got involved and carried the sport to the point where not only did they cover the races but you began to know the drivers on a personal level. That plus the good racing helped to carry and grow the sport. Plus, all the major sponsors are all out promoting the sport to new level of awareness."
Do you think FOX and NBC will help it grow even more?
RUDD: "I think it will as long as it's handled properly. I've been watching what FOX has been doing. They started off with some ruffled feathers with sponsor-mentions and all. That was quickly worked though and I think that was probably just growing pains of a new relationship. They have done an excellent job and I think NBC will be out there trying to outdo what FOX has done. They will probably keep leapfrogging each other and I think the fans will benefit from that. They will be able to see a better level of race coverage. The key to the whole thing is good racing and I have a lot of confidence that NASCAR will always keep working with the rules to make sure the racing is exciting. I think you can be guaranteed that." ______________________________________________________________________
Ricky spoke of some good runs; each time you go to the track you're a contender to win. But, you seem to have some bad racing luck. Do you think you can shake that luck and what can you do to shake it?
McSWAIN: "I think our team has matured a lot over the past year and a half. I think for us to move from a top-five team to a top-two team week in and week out, that has a shot to win, I think it will take what we've done. That is going through these growing pains, remembering what happened along the way and learning from all of it. Every team that is championship caliber has already gone through those things and I think as we go through more and more of those things we become more of a championship contending team every week."
You've got a good mixture of young guys and veterans. How do you keep those guys working together?
McSWAIN: "The good thing about our veteran guys is that they are all down-to-earth people, they're not high-ego people. They like to put back and give back to the sport what the sport has given them. They really enjoy teaching our younger guys. Our younger guys are like most young guys in this sport. They want to learn everything they can and are willing to work hard to do that. So, that has kind of taken care of itself. It's been pretty neat to watch."
Talk about the teamwork between the 28 and 88 teams?
McSWAIN: "I think we have helped them at some places and they have helped us at other places. That's the neat thing about the team concept. Todd Parrott and I talk every Monday about the past weekend. Then, depending on our testing schedules, we talk two or three other times throughout the week. Usually, once a week I will go to his shop or he will come here to our shop. If one of our teams has a really good history at a certain racetrack, we will get together and talk about it. Some tracks are really good to us like Martinsville, Dover or Pocono. They might come to us for those races. Then, the races where they run good at, I will go to Todd.
"Usually on Saturdays at the track, Todd and I will get together and share what we're doing. It's a neat deal, the first time I've ever been involved in this type arrangement.
What are your thoughts about Dover? Ricky is very confident.
McSWAIN: "So am I. We built a brand new car for Dover, but we raced it at Bristol. It wasn't quite as good at Bristol because it was built for Dover. We had a car we raced at Dover a lot, but it just basically got heavy and outdated. We always run well there, we put every bit of information we've learned into this new car. We're going testing tomorrow and I'm leaving Raymond Fox here at the shop to put the finishing touches on the Dover car."
Where are you testing?
McSWAIN: "We're testing at a little road course in South Carolina. It's in Kershaw."
How are you managing personnel as far as the summer stretch of racing goes?
McSWAIN: "We actually started putting that into effect last year. My road guys take a minimum of one day, really one and a half days off a week. I make them do that; it's enforced. Every once in a while, they come back to me and tell me that I'm getting grumpy and I need to take a day off. I usually take a late morning or early afternoon, but rarely a full day totally off.
"With testing, I only take whoever I really, really need. With Daytona and Indy, I do take everyone to test, but for the normal test it's just guys that I need there."
Doug Yates and Todd Parrott have bragged about some new engineers that the team has brought on this season and how that's helped Dale Jarrett with the new tires this season. Do you have the same information and can you talk about the way Ricky has adjusted to the new tire compounds this year?
McSWAIN: "Anytime we have information like that, it's a pool of information that is readily available to both teams. Ricky is very adaptable to changes whether they are NASCAR changes, a Goodyear change or a change we decide to make on our own. He's always been one to pick up on that quickly. A good example of that was the Charlotte race. We were one of the teams affected by the new rule changes with springs and chassis stops. We had to completely rethink our whole plan for Charlotte. We struggled a little be prior to the Winston Open. But, we ended up real good in the Open and really good in the Coca-Cola 600. That's says a lot for Ricky's adaptability."
Will tires come into play this weekend? How does the concrete surface affect the tire versus asphalt?
McSWAIN: "The concrete is more abrasive. At Dover, the concrete is so abrasive on the tires throughout the weekend. You have to remember that you can't run the car quite as hard as you can on Sunday in the race. Once the rubber gets put down from all our practicing, the Busch race and the truck series race then you can run the cars a lot harder. That makes experience such a big factor there. You can't run the car as hard during practice but you can during the race. Experience tells you that you can stand a little bit more in the front end of the car on Sunday because of all the rubber it's a little easier on the tires."
Do you do anything differently in car preparation for Dover's concrete and the high banks?
McSWAIN: "The car we built for Dover is made specifically for that track. It's a really fast track. We have to build a car with good enough ground clearance so that it doesn't drag on the track, but yet we want it as low as possible from a center-of-gravity standpoint. Almost every team has a car build especially for Dover and I think that's what is needed."