Friday, May 13, 2005
Future for Rudd unclear
NASCAR's iron man said if he had a year like he's going through, he might just retire.
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Ricky Rudd knows what he'll do, or at least not do, when he retires. It's just that he doesn't know if this will be his last NASCAR Nextel Cup season.
A season besieged by accidents and mechanical woes have pinned him deep into the points standings heading into Saturday night's Chevy American Revolution 400 at Richmond International Raceway. That's raised the question of the 48-year-old Chesapeake native's status. When asked about retirement in January, he said that if he doesn't run well this year, "then you probably won't see me the next year."
So, is this Rudd's last ride?
He says he'll decide sometime this summer if he'll join Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin in making this his final Cup season. Both, who announced their retirements last year, are having solid farewells. Martin is sixth in the points and Wallace 14th but only 42 points behind Martin.
When Rudd decides to retire, he says he won't follow the paths other veterans have taken.
He doesn't want to do a full-season farewell tour just to sell special souvenir items as many have done.
"How much of it is for the fans and how much of it is really about putting a bunch of extra money in your pocket?" Rudd said. "To me it's like gouging people that support you.
"I've always been low profile. I came into this sport low profile, and I imagine I'll leave on a low-profile basis."
Rudd also says he won't run a partial schedule as Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte are doing. Neither Elliott nor Labonte has finished in the top 15 this season in three starts apiece.
"I think in this sport, you're either in it 100 percent or you're out of it," Rudd said. "You've got some really good guys trying it. I think Bill can still get it done but can the team get it done? It's a total package."
While Martin has hinted at running a full season on the Craftsman Truck series next year, Rudd won't.
"I see myself not traveling so much, going off and seeing family that I've neglected for years," said Rudd, who made his Cup debut at age 18 in 1975 at Rockingham. "I've got a lot of catching up to do in my personal life."
Although Rudd says that he'll spend a year away from racing once he retires, he admits there's one thing that could draw him back.
"Something in the back of my mind that I wanted to do was LeMans," he says of the world famous 24-hour race. "I would drive there. That race has probably lost a lot of prestige over the years in this country, but as a kid growing up and being into go-kart road racing, that was a race I used to dream about."
"That's something that would be interesting, but I don't see running the grind of schedule of any kind."
He's done that long enough.
He'll make his series-record 763rd consecutive start Saturday (850th overall, third-most in series history). NASCAR has not held a Cup race without Rudd since 1981.
"That's a lifetime commitment is what that is," said Jeff Burton, who has made 314 consecutive starts, of Rudd's streak. "I'm in awe of it. I have a lot of respect for Ricky and the intensity that he brings to the track. The thing about Ricky, I talk to him quite a bit, is he wants to do it. He still enjoys doing it."
That's been hard to do this season with all the problems he's faced. He's 31st in the points. Only once in 26 full-time seasons has he finished outside the top 25 in points.
Consider his troubles this year:
• An engine failure ends his day at California. He finishes 41st.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. hits Brian Vickers and triggers a five-car crash on lap 12 at Las Vegas that collects Rudd. He finishes 37th.
• A bearing breaks at Atlanta while Rudd is running in the top five. He finishes 33rd.
• Two accidents at Bristol include Rudd. He finishes 25th.
• Jimmie Johnson hits Tony Stewart, causing a five-car crash that Rudd can't avoid at Phoenix. He finishes 34th.
• Rudd, along with 24 other cars, is swept into a crash at Talladega. He finishes 30th.
"Really what we've got to do is miss wrecks," said Rudd about if he can climb into the top 10 by mid-September and qualify for the championship chase. "The more races we go to and wreck out, the fewer races we have to play catch-up."
Despite his struggles, Rudd remains confident in his team. He points to Martinsville and Texas when he scored back-to-back top-10 finishes as signs that his team can compete.
"One really good performance kind of outweighs a lot of bad finishes," said Rudd, who has 23 career victories. "It's always been that way for me."
Yet, will there be enough such performances to make Rudd want to race at least another year?
A look at the longest streaks of consecutive starts by active drivers heading into Saturday's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.
1. Ricky Rudd/762
2. Rusty Wallace/671*
3. Mark Martin/555*
4. Jeff Gordon/411
5. Bobby Labonte/410
6. Dale Jarrett/353
7. Jeff Burton/314
8. Michael Waltrip/224
9. Tony Stewart/222
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr./189
* Have announced this is final year in the Nextel Cup series.