This Week in Ford Racing June 22, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Ford Genuine Parts and Service Taurus , has a track-record four poles at Infineon Raceway and is a two-time race winner at the road course (1989,...
This Week in Ford Racing
June 22, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Ford Genuine Parts and Service Taurus , has a track-record four poles at Infineon Raceway and is a two-time race winner at the road course (1989, 2002). Rudd recently participated in a conference call to discuss the first road-course event of the season.
Part 1 of 2
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Ford Genuine Parts and Service Taurus
YOU TESTED ON THE REPAVED TRACK. WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS?
"The track is in excellent shape. It's in the best shape since we've been coming out to the Sonoma area. The speeds are very fast and there will definitely be a new track record for the Cup cars out there. I've got nothing to say but great things about the track. The biggest difference about Infineon Raceway was that we considered it a low-grip race track, which meant you had to keep new tires on it to run fast. That's not an issue. It could change the complexion of the race because the tires make so much grip that speeds will be up. There won't be as much of a dependency on tires as there has been in the past, so it's kind of a new Infineon Raceway even though it's a new layout."
WHERE ARE THE BEST PASSING OPPORTUNITIES AT INFINEON?
"It's pretty much like on any road course we run. I guess we only run two of them, at Infineon and Watkins Glen. I'm not too good on my corner descriptions as far as the numbers go, but pretty much in the brake zones is where most of the passing will take place. I think it's turn 11 as you come right into the big straightaway. I think that's where definitely a good majority of the passing will take place. There's not a whole lot as you climb the hill up at the top of turn two, but there are actually two other braking zones that make for good passing. You say there's not a lot of passing going on on the race track, but it seems like when you get late in the race and it's time to go, passing zones that normally aren't passing zones become passing zones. But pretty typically as the race progresses, definitely under braking and then as the race gets near the end you'll see passing just about anywhere and most likely where you don't expect to see it."
KIND OF MOVE THEM OUT OF THE WAY?
"You just crowd your car into places that really isn't typically a passing zone. A good example is the exit of turn 11 and as you round the corner in turn one to climb the hill. Usually, you'll see cars that are lapped getting passed, but when you get late in the race it's sort of a game of who is gonna give first. If a guy is trying to make the pass as you're coming to the flag stand, which would be on your right-hand side, that's not a good position to be in as you climb the hill because that puts you on a bad line as you climb the hill to turn two. But when you get late in the race, you pretty much expect the unexpected. If you can hang on through that left-hander in turn one, that puts you in the ideal spot to enter turn two, so a lot of that goes on in the late stages of the race."
WHO DO YOU SEE AS HAVING A GOOD CHANCE TO WIN?
"I think if you had gone back a year or so you could halfway predict your potential winners, but, I'll be honest, this day and time the track has been resurfaced and it's made for a different race track. I would be afraid to try to pick a car that's gonna be a dominant car. I know the Ganassi cars tested pretty well. They had some new experimental stuff that they were working on when we were out there testing and their stuff was pretty fast. McMurray and Scott Pruett were pretty fast, but there are a whole host of guys that can get the job done out there, especially with the new pavement. That's made it an easier track to drive, which generally translates into more opportunities for guys that maybe typically don't run well there."
WHAT ABOUT THE TIRE SITUATION?
"I can tell you that tires are not an issue out there from when we tested. We would go out there and practice and ran tires for an entire gas stop. Generally, there are probably two seconds difference in your lap times from when you begin your run until the end of the run. The other month when we were out there the speeds were virtually identical. The first three or four laps you would run and the last three or four laps you would run before you were out of fuel were virtually the same speed. That's pretty much unheard of on that speedway since we've been coming out there. Again, it's gonna be a little different complexion with the way this race unfolds. Tires won't be as critical. You might see some guys late in the race do some gas-and-go's, which was not a thought of issue in the past."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A SECOND RACE AT INFINEON EVERY YEAR?
"I've always enjoyed coming out there. I've always enjoyed that part of the country, first of all, with all the great restaurants and just the scenery. We've always enjoyed it, so that would not hurt my feelings one bit to go out there twice a year to that part of the country. I'm definitely open to it as a competitor. Who knows what the cards will hold and where these dates are gonna end up in the future? It seems to be directly related to how well the fans support the race track event. It's kind of confusing for us because there's not really one set of grandstands to look up and see the crowd count like we can on the oval tracks. I'm not sure of the numbers, but if the numbers support it, then I wouldn't be surprised to see a second date."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TREND OF THESE SUPER-CAR TEAMS AND IF YOU LIKE THAT TREND?
"As far as the super teams, I have an opinion of it. Whether it be right or wrong, it's just my opinion, but I personally don't think it's necessarily good for the sport, but it's definitely the way of the future. It looks like it's coming down to potentially in the near future to five or maybe six car owners total with each team taking on six or seven cars. It looks like it's headed in that direction with the Hendrick and Roush operations and the Yates operation and the Ganassi operation. It seems like it's coming down to what seems like a handful of car owners. I say it's not good for the sport - maybe it is and maybe it isn't. I see the concept of why the dollar goes a lot longer when you start averaging the cost per sponsorship and divide it by five to seven teams. It gets more economical to do things, but to have a handful of car owners control this sport, I don't necessarily think it's a great thing. As a competitor, if it's coming to that, you just make sure you align yourself with one of the four or five teams that are gonna be left."
WHO WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE SO-CALLED NEW YORK YANKEES IN THE SPORT?
"I'd have to say the Hendrick operation right now. It's like, 'If they don't win the race, then what's wrong?' Something is wrong with this equation when other people beat them. For sure, the Hendrick camp is not the underdog. That's not to belittle what they've got going on over there. They've got a strong program and it amazes me how they support it. They've probably got 400-450 employees in that operation and it amazes me that all of the finances and stuff work in an operation like that. But, to me, that's sort of the measuring stick and that's the extreme. They're represented well. Obviously, Ganassi is doing a great job and then the Roush camp. The Yates camp is having success, but as far as the powerhouse operation in this sport, to me, you'd have to look at it and say it's definitely the Hendrick camp based on shear numbers and then Ganassi would rate in there somewhere also."
IS THERE MORE AGGRESSIVE DRIVING THIS SEASON AND WILL IT CARRY OVER TO THE ROAD COURSE?
"I think you're gonna see a different road-course race out there. The track has a lot of grip and when you have a lot of grip that means drivers really feel in control of their cars. When drivers feel in control of their cars, you sort of put yourself in some positions that maybe you normally wouldn't do. So, to answer your question, I think for sure you're gonna see an aggressive race by most of the competitors when we come out there and you'll see some passing spots where you normally wouldn't see passing because the grip is so good and the confidence is so high among the drivers."
IS THERE A NEW AGGRESSIVE STYLE OF RACING THESE DAYS THAT IS COMING OUT?
"I look at aggressive and I look at stupid, and I see a whole lot more stupid driving than I do aggressive driving. There's nothing wrong with aggressive driving, but I've seen a lot of stupid driving and it doesn't seem to matter whether you're young or old. I've seen a lot of it this year. With Dover, Delaware, there were some stupid things that happened there that was just uncalled for and ended up tearing up a lot of good race cars. Again, I think you need to distinguish between stupid and aggressive. Is the sport different now? It seems to be. People seem to have a little less patience. The safe spot to be, if you happen to be fortunate enough to have a fast car, for me, the place to be would be out front because you have less chance of being involved in somebody else's accident. It is changing. Why that is, I don't really have all the answers for that, but a lot of people seem to forget the word patient and use their head on how to get to the end of the race. You see some crazy moves that happen in the first 20-30 laps of a race and it just amazes me what I see. I'm not gonna blame it on young drivers, it's a combination of everybody."
ON A ROAD COURSE, WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN DRIVE THE BEST?
"Honestly, I think the place to be is out in front of any race. If you can get out front, not just for clean air and your chances of getting swept up in somebody else's mistakes is a lot less, but these cars - which I have a big personal disagreement with where these cars are today, where they depend on the air so much to make them handle. They're making tremendous amounts of downforce - all the brands of cars are. That's great when you have clean air, but when you get dirty air they quit handling and the racing can sometimes tend to get stretched out and boring. The slower the average speeds are, generally, to me, you see better racing because you're not depending on the air to make the car work. I would put Infineon Raceway in that category where you should see close racing, kind of very similar to what you saw at Richmond or Martinsville where the racing is door to door. Road courses are a little different just because of the nature of the left and right corners, but I think you'll see a very close race at Infineon as far as the competition running very close together. You won't hear a lot of guys complaining about aero-push when you go to Infineon and, for me, that's good news."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT, JR'S. DEVELOPMENT?
"He's done a good job. When he first came on he looked good at Daytona and Talladega and didn't particularly look great anywhere else. Now he's learned how to drive all the different tracks. Obviously, he's doing something right because he's [been] leading the Nextel Cup points championship. But watching him as a driver, he's gotten more rounded where he runs well on the bigger tracks and shorter tracks. For a while it was only big tracks, but now he's learned how to run on the shorter tracks. I guess we'll see how he does at Infineon, but he's more rounded and experienced. He's just more experienced and that's hard to beat."
CAN YOU SEE ANY SIMILARITIES IN HIS STYLE AND HIS DAD'S?
"It was a different time. I'd hate to draw conclusions comparing one to the other because it was a different time. The tires were different for a majority of the time. When Senior was running, you could hang cars out a lot farther than you can today because of the tire construction. They make better grip (today), but it doesn't allow you to do some of the things you used to be able to do with a car, so it's kind of hard to compare the two."
DO YOU THINK THE CLOSENESS OF THE CARS HAS LED TO SOME OF THE AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND THE MISTAKES THAT OCCUR?
"I think what leads you down this road and forces veterans to go different than the younger drivers -- that some of them probably don't know better -- is that there are certain things you can do and certain things you cannot do. But I think what sometimes forces people to make the not-so-smart moves is that these cars are dependent on the air so much and track position is very critical. Running in clean air is very critical and the patience level tends to run a little thin because you can have a car that's four to five miles an hour faster than the guy in front of you, and you can run him down very quickly and catch him, but if you don't pass quickly before you start following him, that car can slow you down to his speed. Then you run a few laps and all of a sudden your front tires overheat and your car starts to push and you've lost your momentum. So there is a sense of urgency among the drivers that when you catch a car, you don't have time to follow them. You'd better pass them in a hurry. If not, you're car will fall into that aero-tight situation that we hear about and it's not a simple thing that's gonna go away. If you run there too long, your air-pressure in your front tires build and the car will have a push that whole entire run until the next pit stop, so the sense of urgency sets in amongst the drivers and sometimes forces them to make moves that they maybe normally wouldn't make."
IT SEEMS MORE DRIVERS ARE CALLING OTHER DRIVERS IDIOTS THIS YEAR. IS THAT PERCEPTION WRONG OR ARE TENSIONS RUNNING HIGHER THIS YEAR?
"I can't really say it's any different than it's been. I guess if you're considered an older driver, you came up in a different time where you learned that no matter how hot you were with somebody, you learned how to be kind to somebody at least as far as the media is concerned. You might have your words off camera or behind the scenes, but it was not handled in front of the public. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of respect for that anymore and I'm not really sure why that is. It's not unusual 15 years ago to hear somebody call somebody and idiot on television, but it happened a lot less frequently than it does today. A lot of that, again, I guess is that we came along in a period of time when we had a responsibility and you didn't want to do too many things that would put the sport in a bad light. You were conscious of that, but now there doesn't seem to be as much awareness."