In an effort to give his fans the opportunity to become more personally involved with his racing program, Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Taurus, has initiated a question-and-answer forum for each event on the Nextel Cup schedule. Here, from the fans, is the first Q-and-A session for the 2004 season. Fans can submit questions to Ricky via his Web site at http://www.rickyrudd.com/askricky.html.
How has the move the Mooresville, N.C., from Stuart, Va., affected you and the team?
I think it has only affected us really in a positive way. Winter testing has been really good. I guess I was pleasantly surprised when we went to Daytona and ran the fastest speed of anybody down there. I was surprised because with the move you would have figured that the team had gotten behind, but contrary to that, I understand they only lost one day because of the move. It has all been positive so far. We've had two good test sessions, one at Vegas and the one at Daytona. A lot of benefits have come so far from the move to Mooresville.
Does it really matter that you recorded the fastest time in the Daytona test?
Technically, it doesn't matter. But what it does do, though, is show that the guys who have worked all the hours on the cars -- it kind of gives them a pat on the back. It says, hey, all the work we've done -- and all the teams work hard at this time of year, but we ran well every time we went out down there -- and it gives them a pat on the back for a job well done. And it gets them excited about going back for the 500.
To what do you contribute your showing at the Daytona test -- aero, motor, personnel, new rules?
Well, Daytona is pretty simple. Everybody goes down there with similar horsepower so it's really about aero and chassis. Also, Ford has a new nosepiece and new rear bumper fascia. So I don't know which area contributed the most, but really all of the above.
How do you feel about the pairing of Roush and Yates?
I'm excited about it. We'll be running one of the Roush/Yates combination engines just like the Roush teams will be. I think they both are brilliant engine builders, and I think it is going to strengthen both teams. I think Roush has something positive to bring to the engine camp and, obviously, Yates motors have always been very strong. So I think with the extra technology coming in from Roush, it can only get better, and we're going to be the benefactor.
What do you think about the new tires? Will they make a difference in the race at Daytona?
I don't know yet. We tested with them and did a little drafting with them. I haven't seen a great deal of difference between these tires and the old tires. Time will tell. I think the Bud Shootout is going to be the first indication of what we're up against with the new tires. Some guys are saying the cars are sliding around a little bit more than they have in the past. We didn't really see that. But I'm going to watch that Bud Shootout really close and make a judgment after I see that.
Is the 125-miler a good test for the 500 of just part of the Daytona Speedweeks hoopla?
It's definitely an important race. You'll know what you've got when you run the 125's. Actually, you'll know what you've got when you run the Shootout. Unfortunately, we aren't in the Bud Shootout this year, but that gives you a really good tune-up for the 125's. You can pretty much watch that race, watch it real close and you can see what is going on. You don't necessarily have to be in that race itself, but you need to pay close attention to it. You can tell what cars are doing. Sometimes you can tell better on TV than you can being in there watching them. The 125's are important races. There are some good teams that if they don't run well in the 125's, they'll go home, so it is an important race. Would I like to see qualifying there just like other race tracks? Yes and no. The 125's to me are real important to use as a tuning tool for what your car needs during the 500.
How do you decide who to draft with? Do you choose drafting partners before the race or during it?
You don't have a choice who you are going to draft with. You use anybody and everybody you can to try to get you to the front. You can't say before the race, "I'm going to pick this guy and that guy." What happens is the better cars sort of find each other. It might not happen right at the start of the race. It might take half of the race to find a group that works good together. The object is to try to get three or four of you together and not necessarily pass each other early on but try to work together to get away from the pack. It doesn't always work. It probably only works about three percent of the time nowadays. You aren't able to get away. But you want to try to get away from some of the heavy traffic and then race among yourselves. The object is to try to run nose-to-tail to pull away. That will happen first. If you're not able to pull away, and you see it is going to be a 40-car pack or whatever, then the racing's on. You'll know probably in the first 20 laps what is going to happen.
Can Ford lead the draft this year?
I didn't really see much of it last year. It is a different car this year and it is a little different set of rules. We'll find out. The DEI cars don't really need the draft. They are strong enough for whatever reason to be able to pull out and not have the draft. But it is kind of hard to lead the draft when you've got guys who can pull out and pass and are just as strong as they are in the draft. Time will tell. The Chevrolets looked like they dominated things last year on the big tracks.
Can you feel the banking at Daytona when you are racing?
When you drive around it in a street car at the bottom of the track, you look up and it's three or four stories high and that is kind of intimidating. But when you run around the track at speed, one of the biggest things you will notice is that the track doesn't drive like it's banked. It feels very flat to you.
Do you ever relax during the race at Daytona?
Not really. About the only time you have a chance to relax is under caution after a pit stop. You don't really relax until after the pit stop is done and you are riding around behind the pace car. Generally, that is the time you can take your hands off the wheel and stretch a little bit and regroup and get yourself a sip of water or PowerAde and get ready for the next segment.
Is there more pressure to perform well at the Daytona 500 than other races?
I think there is a lot of pressure that I put on myself at the 500. It is the first race of the season. You want to come out and Daytona and get a good start to the new year. I've been to Daytona when everything has flowed smooth and I've been to Daytona when it's just sort of a nightmare for the two weeks. But in recent years, it's gone well. We've done well in the 125's. In qualifying last year I think we were fifth overall when the smoke cleared. How you start off early in the week is how your 500 is going to go for you. You've got to be careful. There ares 35 races after the 500 so you don't want to burn your team out or yourself out on that one race.
Do you still get a feeling of excitement when you go to Florida for the first race of the season?
Yeah, I think definitely to me there always has been. During the winter you've done a little bit of testing. It is kind of the calm before the storm. You know what is coming up. You know the 500 is a pretty intense white-knuckle affair. It is kind of one of those deals where your adrenalin is going and you wish you could start the race like a normal format where you come, qualify Friday, practice and race Sunday because you know you have seven days from the time you get down there until you really race. A lot of anticipation builds up until the 125 race. After the 125's, things tend to calm down a little bit until 500 day. Again, you've got to remember what you're down there for, the big picture, and that's the 500.
Do you have any rituals or superstitions that are part of your preparation for the 500?
Not really, nothing really special. The biggest thing about Daytona, you have to be careful that you don't get caught up in all the pre-race hype. There's so much media there. There's something going on every day and every night. And you've got to be careful that you get the rest that you need. There's radio shows, and dinners and receptions pretty much every night. You have to work hard to be able to get your eight hours of sleep there. That is something you have to work at and it is hard, especially if you qualify up front and you become popular for the week. You are being pulled in so many different directions and it goes on so long before the race you have to be careful not to get yourself tired or worn out before the race even starts.
What do you think your chances are for winning the 500?
I'm not very good at making predictions. I don't know if anybody is on restrictor-plate races. You have to look at the DEI cars. Based on previous races, you have to say those guys are the favorites. At some point in time they are going to be beaten. They are going to be knocked off the bubble and there is going to be a new dominant force. We're hoping this Daytona 500 will be our turn. You've got the new engine combination and setup, and I feel like we're going to have some of the best engines at Daytona of any of the teams down there. I feel good about that.
What would it mean to you to win the 500?
It would be a big deal. It would be big. You talk to somebody who doesn't really know racing and over the years I've always used it to describe what I do. I say, 'You know the Daytona 500?', and they say, 'Oh, yeah, I know what kind of racing you do now.' Even if they aren't familiar with the sport, you mention the Daytona 500 and they know about that race. It would mean a lot.