RICKY RUDD ON RACING AT TALLADEGA: "...the trick to the whole thing is to make sure that you have track position at the three-quarters mark, not closer to the end." Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, host of this weekend's UAW/Ford 500, has been...
RICKY RUDD ON RACING AT TALLADEGA: "...the trick to the whole thing is to make sure that you have track position at the three-quarters mark, not closer to the end."
Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, host of this weekend's UAW/Ford 500, has been the site of recent measured success for Ricky Rudd and Wood Brothers Racing. Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, won the pole there in the spring of 2004 and then backed it up by qualifying on the outside pole in the '04 fall race. He qualified seventh there this past spring, but during the race got caught up in a multi-car pileup, one of the largest in Talladega history, and finished 30th. Although Rudd has never won at the 2.66-mile track, he does have 10 career top-fives there. Rudd, despite a frustrating start to the season, has been on a roll since the middle of the summer. In the last 13 races, starting with a second-place finish at Sonoma, Rudd has produced the 11th-most points in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- and more points than any other non-Chase driver except one. This week, Rudd answers questions from his fans about racing at the big track, racing in other series, remaining calm under difficult circumstances and about one real classic Ford.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus
When running at Talladega, do you prefer to run up front or somewhere in the middle of the pack until the last 50 laps or so?
"If you can, you'd rather be up front. It seems like there's a lot of dicing that goes on when they drop the green or they drop a re-start green. There's lot of dicing for about half to three-quarters of that run on that gas stop. Then it tends to settle down a little bit, but it's like you need to get in line before that point, because once you get settled down you sort of get locked into line. The biggest thing that happens at Talladega, you can have a good car and you're going to be up front and you're going to be at the back - and that's going to happen to everybody at some point during the race. So, the whole trick is to time it so you're at the front of the pack when the checkered flag falls. That really starts taking place, not the final series of gas stops, but you kind of need to be in position the run before that. So, by around mile 375, you want to have your track position. You can't wait - you cannot wait - until mile 475 and then say, 'Okay, I've got a really good car, I'm stuck here in the middle. It's time to make a move.' The track becomes blocked. They start running three- and four-wide, and you can't make your way through, there's nowhere to go. You can't run the bottom because they've got the no-passing zone. So, the trick to the whole thing is to make sure that you have track position at the three-quarters mark, not closer to the end." So, to take it one step further, track position going into the pits for the final stop becomes very important, too?
"It's not so much a pit issue - if you come out of the pits and you're 20th, you just got to know that you've got to make your moves more aggressive. The tempo picks up. The race starts and it's a little intense. Then it sort of settles in, it's pretty calm. There's passing going on but fairly calm, guys are being fairly polite to each other. Then you get to the three-quarter mark and stuff needs to start happening, so guys had been cutting slack to each other all day long, all of a sudden that kind of quits. Then you start seeing the extra lane form. When that extra lane starts forming, it's hard to move forward - even if you've got a good car, you can't advance because the track is blocked. So, that's sort of the whole game. You need to have your track position before that extra lane gets formed and starts blocking the race track."
When a race starts, do you prefer to start on the inside or outside? Is it better to start on the outside at short tracks and the inside on superspeedways?
"It really depends on that particular weekend's race on where the best grip is. For example, a couple of weeks ago at Loudon, at the beginning of the race the grip was on the outside lane - the outside lane advanced. And they sort of have a history of that. If you go back over the history of Loudon, that's sort of the case. Another track is Martinsville, Virginia. For some reason, the outside groove for the first eight laps moves quicker than the inside groove. A lot of tracks we run with these small spoilers, the inside line is not always the preferred line anymore because the guy on the inside is going to lose rear downforce and the guy on the outside will not. So, even at places like Kansas, Chicago - some of these places, if the guy on the inside line doesn't make a break from the guy on the outside line, the guy on the outside can keep the other pinned down underneath of him. Sometimes the outside lane moves better than the inside lane."
Although every word you say is being monitored, how do you stay so DARN CALM during the interview after being wrecked out of a top-10 finish? "The way our season has gone this year, I'd probably be an emotional wreck if I let it eat at me. It bothers me, don't get me wrong. Most of the things that have taken us out this year have been really stupid moves by guys, some moves that really don't make sense to me, but I'm not going to change that. I can get all worked up and get all bent out of shape, cuss and holler and fuss, but it's not going to make any difference. What are you going to do about it? Don't get me wrong, I'm upset about it, but there's nothing I can do about it."
I know you have expressed interest in running the LeMans endurance race. Is there a chance of running any other races in a Daytona Prototype, especially the Daytona 24-hour race?
"I don't know. I've run that 24-hour race twice. We've run well. We never ran the prototypes, we ran the class just below the prototypes, the two times we did it. One time we wrecked out, you know, with a group, and then the other time, I was driving for Dan Gurney and we had a really good car. Both times we were in the top five when we broke or had trouble - the Toyota broke and the Ford Mustang wrecked. We went on to Sebring, we actually finished third overall at Sebring, against the prototypes, and, I think, second in our class. We nearly won our class. It came down to the last lap, really. We broke a transmission on the last lap. Never say never. I've done some of those endurance races. The one that probably appeals to me the most would be the one at LeMans - but I'm not even sure that I would do it. Since I was a kid, it just always sort of appealed to me. The Daytona Prototype series, the Jim France version, I like what he's doing. I think that's a great series. I think it's only going to get better. They have sort of addressed a lot of issues with that series that that type of racing has had problems with over the years - the tremendous amount of money and budget it used to take to run those series. Jim France has sort of applied the NASCAR sort of thought process, trying to keep the cost down to all of the competitors, and he's doing a great job and the series is continuing to grow. I could see one day maybe running a couple of races. I don't think I'd want to run a whole schedule, but now and then run a few races."
Being that your career is all about speed and racing cars, do you have any classic or antique autos of your own?
"I've got a '32 Ford that's an original stock car, it has not been restored. It's drivable. It's a really good, solid car. I've had it about eight to 10 years, and I was going to make a street rod out of it one day, but the longer it sits there and the older I get it starts looking pretty good putting it back into stock form. It's drivable, but it needs work. That's probably it for old cars."