Talladega: Ricky Rudd preview

Ricky Rudd: "The sensation of speed, I call it the white knuckle effect, is a whole lot greater at a Texas or Atlanta than it is at Talladega or Daytona. It basically takes zero effort to go around Talladega or Daytona wide open." Ricky...

Ricky Rudd: "The sensation of speed, I call it the white knuckle effect, is a whole lot greater at a Texas or Atlanta than it is at Talladega or Daytona. It basically takes zero effort to go around Talladega or Daytona wide open."

Ricky Rudd and Motorcraft Genuine Parts team pit coach Gary Smith answer the fans' questions about Talladega and making good pit stops at all events. One year ago, Ricky sat on the pole at the Aarons 499 bringing to Wood Brothers Racing its sixth first-place starting spot at the Alabama.

RICKY RUDD - #21 - MOTORCRAFT GENUINE PARTS TAURUS: DID YOU TEST AT TALLADEGA AND IF NOT, HOW DOES TALLADEGA COMPARE TO DAYTONA? "We didn't test at Talladega. We had two cars that we carried to the Daytona 500. When we time trialed, I think we were fifth fastest. We had a car that was probably capable of a shot at the pole. I'm not saying we would have gotten it, but it was definitely faster than the car we qualified fifth with. We elected not to race that car because it always has a push in it at Daytona and we can't seem to get the push out of it. But at Talladega, it's not even an issue because the corners are wider and more sweeping. So we'll probably take that car to Talladega. That is the one we sat on the pole with a year ago and had the outside pole with in the fall last year."

NO DISCREDIT TO YOUR PAST CREW CHIEFS, BUT YOU AND FATBACK REALLY SEEM TO HAVE THE CHEMISTRY NEEDED TO RUN GOOD WEEK TO WEEK. WHAT IS THE KEY FACTOR THAT SEPARATES FATBACK FROM THE REST OF THE CREW CHIEFS YOU'VE HAD? "We've had some good crew chiefs over the years and most of them I won races with. I guess the best way to describe Fatback is, he listens when I'm telling him something. Every driver has their own way of explaining things, but he seems to really comprehend what I'm telling him, probably as good as if not better than anybody I've worked with. A lot of crew chiefs know how to change the handling. If it's pushing they can make it loose or vice-versa. Fatback just has a real good knack of listening to what I'm telling him and then he takes that data and he can usually hone in and give me a car real close to what I'm looking for."

HAS THE COMMUNICATION CHANGED AS THE CARS HAVE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? "No, the driver is basically going to give his description of what the car is doing. If a car was fast enough to win the pole for every race and was good in every race there wouldn't be any communication. But that isn't the way it is. Every car is different and the driver has his input on what he wants, and it is up to the crew chief to take that input and make it better. Over the years things have changed, but the driver is still going to give feedback on what the car is doing. The difference is that the way of fixing it has changed. When you might have used a chassis change or a spring change in the past, now it can be done with a fender. You maybe take a fender and change the angle while five years ago it wasn't that sensitive. It is still up to the driver. The driver might say it is pushing and depending on where it's pushing, it is up to the crew chief as to whether he works on an aero change or whether you work on a chassis change to correct it. That is probably the biggest thing that has changed over the years. Now you've got aero. You are using a lot of your chassis and spring to control the aero part of the equation. And by that I mean how low the car rides down the straightaways as you enter the corner. The car's ride height, pitches and changes are real important to make the car go fast. That wasn't as big of an issue in the past as it is today. So it is up to the crew chief to decide whether he wants to make an aero change or a chassis change to correct it."

AT WHAT TRACKS IS AERO THE MOST IMPORTANT? "A good example is a track like a Texas. Really the fast way around the race track was on the bottom. So you could have a fast car, but you were forced to follow the car in front of you into the corner. You could have a car that is considerably faster than him, but not fast enough to go up and make a second groove and pass him on the outside. So therefore, you are committed to follow him until you see a break. You can catch the guy and all of a sudden the front end starts to push. The bigger tracks, a mile and a half and bigger, are the ones that are affected by that aero push more than any others - Indianapolis, Texas, anywhere that it is essentially a one-groove race track."

BUT NOT AT TALLADEGA OR DAYTONA? "No, it's not that big of a deal there. Mainly at Daytona you can get into an aero push, but it is not a whole lot different whether you are following or leading. But at Texas or Indianapolis if you can get out into clean air that push can go away."

IS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT ATLANTA AND TEXAS HAVE SURPASSED DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA AS THE FASTEST TRACKS ON THE CIRCUIT? "The sensation of speed, I call it the white knuckle effect, is a whole lot greater at a Texas or Atlanta than it is at Talladega or Daytona. It basically takes zero effort to go around Talladega or Daytona wide open. Texas is another story. Michigan is another story. You know you are going faster. Straightaway speeds are 200 miles per hour plus, where at Daytona or Talladega you never see that with the plates. You also have to slow down for the corners, so timing is a real critical issue - when to roll out of the throttle, when to turn into the corner. All those things are an issue at a Texas or Michigan or Indy where they're not an issue at Talladega or Daytona. I don't know what the lap speeds are, but it takes a lot more effort to make a lap at Michigan or Indy."

IS TALLADEGA A "COOKIE CUTTER" TRACK? "No. Cookie cutter tracks are the ones that look identical to one another, like they used the same blueprint to build them. A Kansas, Chicago, Vegas somewhat, Michigan somewhat falls into that category. They all have similar bank angles and such. That is what is meant by the cookie cutter term."

HOW HAVE THE RULES CHANGES OVER THE YEARS AFFECTED YOUR RACING? WHAT ADVANTAGES OR DISADVANTAGES HAVE HELPED OR HURT YOU AND THE OTHER DRIVERS? "That is a question that would take forever to answer. I'll only speak to the most recent changes. They made one rule that basically took spoiler off the cars, which should have made them harder to driver. But at the same time Goodyear came back and changed the tire compound so from a driver standpoint there is virtually no difference. I'm not sure of the reason behind it. I can see making the spoiler smaller and making the cars ill to drive, but at the same time why would you cut the spoiler off and then have softer tire? That is a good example of a major rule change, but the crews are so good at working and getting these cars to where the performance loss is back to where the driver doesn't see a whole lot of difference. Now the crews have lost a lot of sleep over it and a whole lot of work has gone into getting these cars to that point, but we don't notice the difference."

GARY SMITH - #21 MOTORCRAFT GENUINE PARTS TAURUS PIT CREW COACH: I NOTICED THAT YOU POSTED RELATIVELY SLOW PIT STOPS IN TEXAS. WHAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE PIT STOPS BETWEEN RACES? "It's true that a bad pit stop can cost the driver in a race. That is an important part of our day. We had very good pit stops at Texas. We had nine pit stops in all and our overall average was 13.46 seconds. We did lose a few spots on our very first pit stop because we had so much congestion off the jack leaving pit road that Ricky had to slow down so there wouldn't be an altercation, creating a wreck. We probably would have gained spots on that one, but overall we had a good day and good stops. Thirteen forty-six is a good average. We did have one stop that was a 14.50. I believe we hung a lug nut on the front. These are things that can happen during a race. Certainly you hope they don't, and we work very hard all week during practice. It's hard to have that many pit stops and not have some sort of problem happen. If it does, we forget about it and move on because there is no sense in looking back. We normally practice two to three times a week. We do actual live pits stops. And then, of course, we are in the weight room a couple days a week doing weight training. That is a very important part of it - conditioning. If we need to pick a third or even a fourth day if we have a certain problem, an individual or an area that we need to address, we certainly take the time to address them."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Gary Smith
Teams Wood Brothers Racing