Last season he hinted at retirement, tangled with a member of his Robert Yates Racing team, and generally had a rough go of things. But Ricky Rudd, now with new life driving Fords for the Wood Brothers, hopes the 2003 NASCAR season will put him back on track.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we got two or three wins this year,” said Rudd, who is piloting the No. 21 Motorcraft-sponsored Taurus.
Rudd is something of an “old-timer” in Winston Cup, having made his first start in the series in 1975 and winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1977. Between 1983 and 1998, Rudd had a streak of winning at least one race every season. But after being a car owner as well as driver from 1994 through 1999, the Virginia native found it more difficult to wear two hats.
“It seems like it’s been longer than it’s been since I was owner and driver,” Rudd said. “The schedule is still pretty grueling with the pace we have to go at, but it would be even more difficult as a driver/owner.
“Now my days get filled up, but not in a management role. I’ll leave that to the owners – they handle all the day-to-day headaches. It’s a very nice, refreshing way to go racing now.”
Now that Rudd is able to concentrate strictly on driving, he has found a renewed sense of confidence. Although he and his Yates teammates never seemed to be on the same page in 2002, he is ready to make a run at the top again under the guidance of the legendary Wood Brothers.
Rudd has seen Winston Cup racing grow from a regional sport to an international industry and has remained low-key through it all. But he wouldn’t mind stepping into the spotlight with a championship.
“To be honest, I’m not one to go out and seek the limelight – I’m kind of a low-profile-type person,” Rudd said. “It’s going to be going on all around me but I’m not mixed up in the middle of all of it. I’m there to race and take care of the loyal fans who have supported me.
“But if we could win the championship, we’d pack the family up and do all the necessary events as a family. I enjoy being competitive and having a chance to win, so having a shot at a championship would be great.”
IROC helps Cheever hone driving skills
Eddie Cheever, who began racing at the age of 13 at the Pista d’Oro karting track in Rome, Italy, in 1971, is one of the top drivers in the world. The man who was named CART Rookie of the Year in 1990 still holds the fastest lap in Indy 500 history (236.103 mph) and became the first owner/driver to win that event in 22 years when he took a milk bath at the Brickyard in 1998.
However, Cheever admits he had much to learn about the International Race of Champions – especially from the NASCAR drivers in IROC.
“I’d say I’m probably at about 50 percent as far as understanding how the draft works, and that’s something I have to learn from the NASCAR guys,” said Cheever, who started racing IROC in 1999. “I love racing against all the Winston Cup guys – notwithstanding some of the arguments we have after the race.”
In his IROC appearance at Daytona in February two years ago, Cheever finished third but is best remembered for spinning the late Dale Earnhardt out. Cheever apologized to the legend afterwards, and Earnhardt shrugged off the incident – opting to put the open-wheel star in a playful headlock.
“After I spun him out, I was relieved to get a bear hug from him,” Cheever said. “When you get in a race car your job is to win the race any way you can, and I know Dale understood that. He was one of my greatest friends in NASCAR, and I miss him.”