This Week in Ford Racing April 6, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Â The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series takes a break this weekend. Thoughts during pre-race, tire management, correcting tight set-ups, qualifying, young driving talent, gum...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 6, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series takes a break this weekend. Thoughts during pre-race, tire management, correcting tight set-ups, qualifying, young driving talent, gum preference and Easter break activities - Ricky Rudd, driver of the #21 Motorcraft Racing Ford Taurus, responds to these questions from his fans this week.
I was at the Bristol race last week. As I was watching you ride around the track in the back of that pickup waving to your loyal fans after driver introductions, I wondered, "What is going through your mind at that point?"
"At Bristol, it's looking up there and seeing all those people. There are a lot people in a small place, and it is hard to believe how many people there are in there. I'm looking for the Motorcraft shirts, too."
Two or three years ago you went two laps down pretty early in the race and came back to win (maybe second). Can this still be done with the new rules and cars?
"Yeah, I think so. That 'lucky dog' rule kind of mixes things up a little bit in that respect. Back when we did it, you had to be in front of the leader and a caution would have to come out. You could have a very fast car and be two laps down. I guess you still have the prerogative of starting on the inside pole. If you have 10 cars that are one lap down and you are the 11th car and two laps down, you are supposed to yield the cars that are one lap down. Therefore, you don't have a good starting position on the restart. It is really a judgment call if your car is really, really good, and good enough to win the race. It is kind of grey area. It is more of a driver courtesy thing. But to answer the question, I think you could still do it."
Do you think NASCAR should "borrow" the 107% rule from Formula 1 to determine the starting field?
"I'm not really familiar with that. There are definitely some things they could look at. You've got an issue like that when the race starts. You have to be within a certain percentage of the leaders when the race starts. In the drivers' meeting they will tell you that if you have an accident or if your car simply cannot come up to speed, you get one chance to run the speed of the day. They'll give it to you, and it is based on some percentage of the pole speed. And they use that to determine what is too slow to run around the race track. But, there is nothing like that for qualifying. Is that something they should look at? It makes enough sense that maybe it ought to be looked at a little bit."
Do you believe that these early races, such as Bristol, Texas, and Martinsville, are more important than last year, because of the new points system?
"I think there is more pressure to come out of the box competitive. In years past teams would get stronger as the season progressed. Now you can't give up a whole lot at the beginning of the season. You don't want to. You need to hit the ground running. There is probably more of an emphasis on that than there has been in the past because of the 26 and 10."
How soon will you be going to the new heads from Ford, and do you think this will help with the Ford racing program short term or long term?
"I don't know when they are coming out. I don't really know much about them. I certainly hope it will be better. I really don't know how to answer that other than being a Ford driver, we're certainly looking forward to that."
Have the tires hindered you from running in the front of the pack? Do you like the new tires that NASCAR is using better than the old ones?
"The difference in the tire is the management of the tire with tire pressures, and I don't think we were on top of it like we needed to be when the season started. Quite frankly, the guys who were on top of it were especially the Dodge teams. They had hired the head engineer for Goodyear tire development back at the end of last year. It wasn't an experiment for those guys like it was for other teams. I think things were quite a bit different with air pressures than we were used to. To answer the question, we weren't prepared for that drastic of a change when the season started. Once you get them aired correctly, they are very similar to last year's tires."
Being tight seems to be a consistent problem with the car last year and the beginning of this year, especially on the intermediate tracks. Why can't the car be loosened it up?
"It sounds easy from where I'm sitting. Hey, get my front end where it will turn better in the middle of the corner and we'll go somewhere. But, sometimes cars don't respond to changes like they are supposed to. I can't answer all the whys. There are different reasons for that. A lot of it is aero issues on the intermediate tracks. On the shorter tracks, when it doesn't turn in the middle and it's too tight, it is pretty much a spring combination that is not right or a shock absorber change. We haven't run that many short tracks. We ran Bristol and we weren't tight in the corner there. We had another issue to deal with there that caused our problems. It was more of a brake issue. The brake cooling didn't work and the car got away from us. The tires overheated from the brake rotors being too hot. That is what happened at Bristol. From a driver's standpoint, pretty much our job is to run as fast as we can and hopefully not have any problems. But, really drivers - their main job is to complain, but in a constructive way. The team takes that information, and tweak it (the car) and tune it, and if it works right the car goes faster. We have fought that a lot this year."
What brand and flavor gum do you chew?
"Whatever is available, whatever is there, whatever happens to be the pack of the day."
Do you think the young Nextel Cup Drivers are having early success because they can take a fearless approach with their equipment, or are these "young guns" genuinely showing the talent and the savvy to be good drivers?
"I think you have to look at every situation on its own. We don't have a young driver in our camp, but we do compare notes with the Roush camp. We look at their data. It really gets back to the team itself, really. I look at it more as teams, not just drivers. Last year Bill Elliott was the guy to beat week in and week out. Why was Bill so hot last year? As a team they just worked well together. Bill stepped up and Kasey Kahne stepped in and he has done a heck of a job where Bill left off. The equipment was laid out for him. To me, it is more how well the team is working and how good the cars are versus the driver age issue."
What are you going to do over the Easter break?
"Nothing special. Spend time with the family. I have a sister that lives down in South Carolina that lives at the beach. We'll probably just go down there, relax and not have to do anything. We can sleep in late, go out to eat, not be on a schedule. To me, not having to be somewhere is my idea of a vacation."