Pardon Ricky Rudd if he dismisses that thought. Thirty years after earning Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR Cup competition, the 50-year-old Virginia native is getting a do-over. Rudd decided to come out of retirement for the 2007 season and promptly grabbed the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.
“It’s good to be back,” Rudd says. “I had a nice vacation and kind of refreshed a little bit. And the burnout factor was setting in too much, so I took a year off and just sort of cleared my head and figured out what I wanted to do.
“The risk that I knew I was taking was if I decided I might want to come back, there might not be an opportunity for me because the seats would have been filled. As it turned out it worked out good that Robert Yates was looking for someone to fill the seat in the 88 (Ford) and the Mars candy company Snickers was good enough to step up and sponsor the car.”
Rudd made his Cup debut in 1975, but his first full season was in 1977, a year that saw him named the series’ top rookie. From that point on he became a model of consistency, winning at least one race per season from 1983 to 1998.
His last victory came in 2002 at the road course in Infineon, Calif., and overall Rudd had registered 23 career victories and 29 poles.
Still, Rudd insists that when he retired he was fully committed to walking away from the sport – until a new race season began.
“I don’t think the itch to race ever really left,” he says. “I tried to keep it in check and tried not to watch too many broadcasts, tried not to listen to it on the radio.”
Although few expect Rudd to be a factor in the Chase for the Nextel Cup (his best-ever series finish was second in 1991), the man who holds the record for second Cup starts with 788 vows to make the most of his second chance.
“Since I was a kid, this is all I wanted to do,” Rudd says. “Robert [Yates] is bound and determined to try to build this thing back up to where it was, and he’s there every morning opening the doors of the shop.
“I’m not going to fix it by myself, obviously, but I’m excited about the challenge and being back.”