JOE RUTTMAN READY FOR WDWS RETURN Lake Buena Vista, Fla. -- Joe Ruttman says working for Jack Roush is great -- except when you get "the call" for a meeting. Ruttman drives the Roush Racing LCI Ford on the NASCAR Craftsman ...
JOE RUTTMAN READY FOR WDWS RETURN
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. -- Joe Ruttman says working for Jack Roush is great -- except when you get "the call" for a meeting. Ruttman drives the Roush Racing LCI Ford on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and says his truck owner generally calls a meeting when he's troubled. "Winning is what it's all about," said Ruttman. "That's the reason for Jack's meetings. It's either you've fallen behind in the points, or you haven't won a race. He wants to know what can he do on his end to make the program better. It's not necessarily you're doing a bad job. He says 'Do you need more of my time? Do you need more money? Do you need more technology? Do you need whatever?' "If you ask for it, and he gives it to you, it better be the solution to the problem. He's a no-nonsense type of guy who likes to win. It's a business to him. On the other hand, you know you're going to get the best equipment and best crew, the best of everything when you race with Jack Roush." The phone didn't ring at Ruttman's Brentwood, Tenn., home much during the 1997 NCTS season. The 53-year-old driver won five races, and finished third in the final point standings, just one point behind second-place Rich Bickle. Ruttman started the '97 season -- his best in NASCAR competition -- with a stirring victory in the inaugural Chevy Trucks Challenge, staged at Walt Disney World Speedway. The second annual Chevy Trucks Challenge is scheduled Jan. 18 at the competitive, one-mile course located outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Ruttman caught leader Jack Sprague in the closing moments of last year's race. On the last of 200 laps, in Turn 1, Ruttman and Sprague touched, sending Sprague into the wall. Ruttman went on to victory, while Sprague finished 15th. Sprague recovered to win the NCTS championship. Most figured Ruttman's bump-and-go was payback from the 1996 season when Ruttman crashed after tangling with Sprague. But Ruttman insists it was just hard racing, and a chance to avoid one of those dreaded Roush meetings. "I didn't think the tires would go the full distance," said Ruttman, whose older brother Troy was an Indy-car driver. "I thought we'd be at the cords 30 laps before the end of the race. A lot of guys ended up getting to the cord by the end of the first 100 laps. Then we paced ourself differently in the second half of the race. "Everyone wonders what took place on the last lap. It came down to this: the guy with the best tires was going to win, and Jack realized he made the mistake of running his tires off. He was trying to protect for the win, and I wasn't going to let him do that. I didn't win the year before (1996) and I wasn't going to go all of '97 without winning. It just happened to be the first race. "I'm sure a lot of people from the outside assumed it was me being over- aggressive, but you got to be in Jack's and Joe's mind to realize that Jack was trying to protect for the win, and I had the better tires. He was a sitting duck, and I knew it. He realized it probably five or six laps from the finish, but I waited until the last lap to make the move." Ruttman and Sprague never tangled again during the course of the 26-race season. They left their emotions at the door before leaving Walt Disney World Speedway that day. Still, Ruttman expects a tough fight from Sprague, and a host of others, as he prepares to defend his Chevy Trucks Challenge crown. And Ruttman may have an advantage, since his NCTS team remains intact from the 1997 season. Randy Goss heads Ruttman's hard-working, experienced crew. And he's got the entire support of Roush Racing, which in 1998 will field five Winston Cup Series teams and three NCTS operations. Ruttman hopes to take two more steps in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings, too. "I think we have a helluva team," said Ruttman. "Randy Goss is the bossman. He does a great job. Can we win the championship? You're darn right we can win the championship. "Every race is a new challenge. Just because we won at Disney last year doesn't mean we can win there again this year. It's a whole new day and a whole new set of circumstances. But I feel good about our chances." Tickets for the Chevy Trucks Challenge are still available at all Florida TicketMaster outlets, or by calling (407) 839-3900 or (813) 287-8844.
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