"It definitely makes the competition thicker, more to deal with." - Ricky Rudd on Road-Course Ringers Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Racing Ford Taurus, answers his fans' questions this week about road-course ...
"It definitely makes the competition thicker, more to deal with."
- Ricky Rudd on Road-Course Ringers
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Racing Ford Taurus, answers his fans' questions this week about road-course racing and Infineon Raceway. The road-course ace has four poles and two wins at the California 1.99-mile track, and Sunday's event will mark Ricky's 855th career start and his 768th consecutive start in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing.
Are your road-course cars specially built for those tracks, or are they used at other tracks too? "Road-course cars are pretty much built just for the road courses. For a long time, you would build two cars - one for Sears Point and one for Watkins Glen. They were actually different cars. Most of the turns on the road courses are to the right, and, of course, we turn left on the ovals. So, a road-course car is pretty much a mirror image of your best short-track car, like for Martinsville. All of the stuff you build into the car, like the coolers, things of that nature - the rear-end coolers and the pumps and all that which would normally go on the right side of the car -- go on the left side of the car for a road-course car. And there is a little more attention paid to brake cooling, but not any more than you would at a Martinsville. Now, the same car we run at Sears Point we can run at Watkins Glen. Back when they used to run the carousel at Sears Point, it required a different car. Most people didn't run the same cars at both tracks, but now they do."
What is the most crucial element when it comes to pit strategy at Infineon? "It used to be unique to road racing, but now we see the same type of strategy at the oval tracks, you sort of would run the race backwards. And what I mean by that is, once you knew you could make your final pit stop and have enough fuel to finish the race, you would pit at that time. On most oval tracks you would pit frequently whenever the yellow would come out. On a road course, if it is not in the fuel window, you won't pit. You've got a certain pit window that you are looking for and when you can go the distance on fuel, ideally, you don't want to pit again. If a caution came out and you could make the race on fuel with a lap to spare that would be ideal. Track position is so important. You're not going to come in and multiple-pit like you do on the ovals. It is no big secret. That is pretty much the strategy that everyone uses nowadays."
Do you have to concentrate more racing a road course? "You're busier because you have the transmission to deal with that you don't have to deal with on oval tracks. The workload for the driver is just a lot busier. On the oval tracks, you just have the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brake pedal. But on the road courses you are dealing with those, and also the clutch and the transmission. If you heel/toe downshift, you still have to match revs on the downshift so there is just a lot more work load on the road courses."
On the road-course events like Infineon, do you shift "by ear" or can you scan the tach? "I like to do it a little differently. All of these cars have limiter chips in them. And I like to start off a little conservative. Usually, the rev limiter chip is for maximum rpm that the motor builder has stressed not to exceed. It is like a small car fuse and the have different numbers on them. If we aren't supposed to exceed 9,000, I'll start off at 8,700 and I'll use that for a shift point. I like to watch the tach when we first get to a track, but if I mess up I've got the chip to remind me. Once you get there and see where your shift points are then I'll have them put the chip back to what the motor builder said. It's just a personal thing that I do to remind me not to over-rev the motor. Motor builders don't like you to run it up against the chip because it misfires when it does that and it can eventually do motor damage. It takes a couple laps to get settled into the routine and find out where your shift points are. And then you just pretty much shift by feel and where you are on the track and you know how far to carry a particular gear out."
Are shift lights used in the Cup cars like the ones used in drag racing? "No."
Did you test for Infineon? If so, where and how did it go? "We tested at Virginia International Raceway a couple of weeks ago. I don't think a lot has changed since last year, except the brake system. The brake systems are always changing. It went well until I backed it into the tire wall, but all in all I think it went well."
Does racing your shifter kart help keep you on top of your game for the road courses? "I've gotten rid of the shifter kart, but I've got karts that are very similar. Since the last road-course race, I've probably only run a kart three times. I'd like to run it more. I just don't have the time. But, it's a timing issue and that keeps you up. It doesn't necessarily have to be a shifter, but any where you go where you brake hard and you turn right and you turn left it sharpens you up a little bit. The go-karts are so quick that it does help. It certainly doesn't hurt anything."
What is your opinion on road-course ringers that come in and take rides from the regular drivers at the two road courses? "I don't know. We've had that for years. We've had really good, experienced road-course drivers come race with us. But, generally, they would have to put together what I would call a second-class effort of a car. It would be maybe good teams from other series but they never had experienced building a Cup car, so the drivers never got a chance to shine really well. But now we've got good teams bringing in road-course aces who are very good at what they do. I don't really have an opinion one way or the other. I haven't really thought about it. Competition is what it is. It definitely makes the competition thicker, more to deal with. But it's been that way for several years. There is some thought that these guys should run several other races a year to be eligible. It really should be easy pickings for them, but it never seems to turn out that way."
Do miss the old Riverside road course? "Yeah, I liked that track. It was a lot of fun. It was out in the desert and it really wasn't a fancy facility, but I liked the track itself. That was my first introduction to running cars on road courses -- at Riverside in 1981. We qualified third, we were leading the race with about 19 laps left to go and broke a motor. I've always sort of taken to the road courses and to me they are a lot of fun."
Do you think there should be more road courses on the Cup schedule? "There are some beautiful race courses in this country. They are very scenic. When you go there it is just a different atmosphere. It's not oval track racing by any means. And, for a long time, when we ran there, I think the fans got cheated because the television coverage just wasn't that good. If you would sit at home and watch it, you really couldn't see the races. They only had a couple of cameras and sitting at home you really couldn't see the race. And now they do such a good job. I think there is a lot of excitement that goes on at a road race that has been there all those years, but you could never see. The cameras couldn't do it justice, but I think modern-day television has kind of reinvented the road race and made it more interesting to the fans."