This Week in Ford Racing April 26, 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, has been visiting Talladega, site of this weekend's Aaron's 499, since 1976. He produced his first top-10 ...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 26, 2005
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, has been visiting Talladega, site of this weekend's Aaron's 499, since 1976. He produced his first top-10 finish a year later with an engine that was purchased at the track after losing his qualifying engine during Happy Hour. Rudd, who put up the fastest qualifying lap at Talladega in last year's spring race, which delivered Wood Brothers Racing's first pole since 1984. The team heads into this weekend's event with two top-10s in the last three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus
WHAT ABOUT THAT FIRST TOP-10 BACK IN THE 1970S? "It was 1977 and we were running for Rookie of the Year, and we blew our last motor up at Pocono the week before. Back then you needed a truck block, that's what you started building an engine with. So we drove the tow truck home from Pocono, and the tow truck, that we towed our trailer with, happened to have the block that we needed. So we got back to my dad's junk yard and pulled the motor from the truck, got it to my brother in the machine shop, and they worked and took that motor and made a race motor out of it. They needed the block, and of course, they had race cylinder heads and stuff, but those blocks back then were a little harder to find, so there was a good block, and they took it out of the tow truck and another buddy put another motor in the truck. They didn't have the right block, but it would get us to Talladega. So we get down there and get qualified, and we blow our motor up in Happy Hour practice, and we didn't have a spare. So we got together with Robert Yates and he agreed to sell us a motor, and we finished fourth that day. So that was sort of a strange deal. We won the money, and it was just enough money to pay Robert for the motor."
ON WINNING THE POLE, HIS FIRST WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS, AT TALLADEGA LAST APRIL. "If you look back, ever since I came on board here, these guys have had good speedway cars. I'm thinking the same car went to Daytona and qualified well, they massaged on it a little bit and then went to Talladega and it sat on the pole. There had been a trend leading up to that pole, and if I'm not mistaken, that's probably the same car that's going back."
ON QUALIFYING AT TALLADEGA, WHERE THE RACING IS DONE IN PACKS. "The qualifying and the race have nothing to do with one another. The only thing about a good qualifying car is that hopefully it starts you up front and gives the guys a little pat on the back when they can accomplish a pole, because it's really a crew members' race. They build the slickest car and take down there and that pole is definitely a crew members' accomplishment. Everybody in the garage area realizes that, and these guys get a few pats on the back, which they deserve, for that, but it really has no bearing on the race whatsoever."
DOES ANYTHING ABOUT TALLADEGA STAND OUT TO YOU? "It's the same old Talladega, the track's a lot easier to drive than it was years ago because the speed is down, but by the same token, I race trim when you're running four-wide all day long, or three wide, it's pretty intense racing. You tolerate it. I don't know anybody who really loves it, you tolerate it. It's hard to look forward to it. I get more excited about going there looking for a pole then I do anything because that's something these guys can control. When you get out there in those big packs, you have no control over your fate."
HOW IMPORTANT HAVE THE TWO TOP-10S IN THE LAST THREE RACES BEEN FOR THIS TEAM? "The team has made big, big gains since last year. It came on last year when Fatback (Michael McSwain, crew chief) came on board, and he's slowly been making changes and a new season gets here and we're really looking forward to coming out of the box. We knew we had good cars, they'd run well, but we didn't know exactly how well until you go out and race the competition and finish the races. We knew we were good but we needed some races under our belt to tweak on the cars - we simply couldn't get. Fatback ends up having a back injury and had to have that taken car of, and then we wreck in the first I don't know how many races right in a row, a victim of circumstances, so we didn't get into a race four or five laps and then we'd get wrecked so we didn't know what we had. We went to Atlanta and had a top-three car and ended up with a freakish part failure real late in the race. That was only indication we knew that, 'Hey, we're pretty good. I don't know about good enough to win, but we're good enough to run up in the top five. And the we turned around and broke, but at least we ran the majority of the race to find out what we needed to work on."
SO THIS TEAM STARTING TURNING IT AROUND TOWARDS THE END OF LAST SEASON? "I think you would go back and erase everything and start at about the time Fatback showed up. Give him a couple of races when he got here and got settled, but from that point on, and then all of a sudden you've got this group of DNFs - they don't show up as DNFs, they show up as bad finishes because we patched the cars up, some without front-end parts, some just to ride it out - but there's that streak there in a row of a bunch of bad finishes, but if you could erase that, go back and start all over again and look at Martinsville a few weekends ago and Texas - it's not a dominant team yet, but it's a competitive top-five, top-10 team."
USING THAT AS YOUR TIME FRAME, HOW IS THIS TEAM DOING HEADING INTO TALLADEGA? "I think we're a top-10 team for sure, week in and week out - top five on occasion. If you run in the top five nowadays, you can slip in there in the right circumstances and you can win. But these guys are not content with, 'This is what we've got.' They needed those races under their belt so they can tweak on things. If the car continuously has a push situation, then they'll go to work on sticking the front end better. If we go somewhere where we've been constantly loose, they'll work on un-sticking the front and sticking the back. So, there seems to be a pattern there they've got so now they can go to work and tweak a little bit and hope to make them better."
EDDIE WOOD, co-owner No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus
WAS THE POLE LAST YEAR AT TALLADEGA, THE FIRST FOR THE WOOD BROTHERS IN 20 YEARS, A SURPRISE TO YOU? "The qualifying package that we had for restrictors was pretty good, because I think we were fourth or fifth at Daytona. We had a good qualifying package there and that was kind of our bright spot of getting us through. We didn't race well at Daytona. The car pushed pretty badly and at Talladega the car was good and as Talladega is - and always has been and will be again - to be fortunate to be in the right line with two or three to go is good. I think we went out of sight in second and we came back wherever we finished. That's how quickly things change. We're taking the same car back to Talladega that we sat on the pole with. It'll be good in race trim, but it may give up a little bit in qualifying from where it was, but part of the reason it did push in the race is because it was quick enough to sit on the pole."
IT WAS A LONG TIME BETWEEN POLES FOR THIS RACE TEAM. "We came close to sitting on a lot of poles from that point until last year, but it just really worked out. That was good. At the time we needed a boost and that was just at the right time. Now, I'd like to go back down there and sit on the pole, sure, after we've dug out of the hole that were in three weeks ago, to gain a number of spots in the standings, actually that in itself is a pretty big boost for us. All year we felt like we had good cars, fast cars, we just couldn't show it. Things just didn't work out. In this business they won't work out until they're ready to work out. It doesn't make any difference what you do. Fortunately, it's kind of starting to come around and I think we'll be okay."
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PINK HAT YOU WORE AFTER WINNING THE POLE? "I think I threw that thing over the fence somewhere. I can't remember where it was. I wore it for a while. It's like the luck wore out in it. I may have to regroup and go get me one. I'm going to go to the souvenir hauler and get me one at Talladega. I think they've still got 'em or they got the 2005 version of 'em. I like pink. I got pink shirts. I like pink."