Rolling the dice
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Racing Ford Taurus will answer fans' questions each week this season. Submit questions to via his Web site at http://www.rickyrudd.com/askricky.html.
How did the Las Vegas test go?
I thought it went pretty good. We learned a lot. It was the first test with the new rules and the new tires. We carried two cars out there so we could decide which would be the best, and we were able to do that. It was pretty racy. Our speeds were real competitive on race set-up. We made a lot of long runs and were really happy with what we saw there. On the qualifying runs we weren't quite as good as we were on race runs.
Do you think you can get another pole or a win there?
I don't look for a pole. We had two days at the test and we elected to take that time and spend the majority of it on race set-up.
Did your team spend a lot of time working and massaging on your intermediate-size track cars in the offseason?
All the cars are now different. They've all got the new nose and tail section. In a lot of ways all the teams are starting over because of the NASCAR spoiler cut that has taken place on all these cars. With less rear spoiler, everyone is having to work on that set up -- even guys that had it figured out. We did not have it figured out. Our short-track program was really good last year, I thought. That program is really solid. The intermediate track stuff was where we really suffered.
How do you think the new Ford body and motor combination will work on the 1.5-mile tracks and without the restrictor plates?
That's the game plan. That's the reason for the new nose and tail, to try to help the cars on those tracks. I think when they got the new nose and tail and I don't think they counted on the rear spoiler being cut. I'm not sure I'm the guy to answer that question. I think everybody is fighting to get back to where they were last year with all the changes. The biggest change is the spoiler change and also the new tire.
Will the new combination help you with qualifying this year?
I don't know. With the new aero package, the change in rear spoiler and the new tire, I'm not sure. Some teams don't have it figured out yet and some do. So everyone is searching. Most everybody is scratching their head a little bit. Is it going to be better? We'll just have to wait and see. We don't really have anything to go by yet. We'll have to go to Vegas and places like Kansas City before we can really answer that question. I don't think anybody really knows yet.
With the testing done at Daytona and Vegas, do you feel the 21 and other Ford teams have a chance of being more competitive even without the new Ford cylinder heads?
I don't know the exact time line of getting the new cylinder heads. The intent is to make things better than they've been. After the halfway point last year, Ford pretty much suffered on all the horsepower tracks. Will there be more power? I don't know. I would think that before they made the request they knew what they wanted. There are pretty smart people at the Yates camp and the Roush camp so I would think they knew what to ask for.
How much do you think the softer tires and smaller spoiler will affect the racing in the pack on tracks like Las Vegas?
I can't answer that. I haven't been there yet. I know what NASCAR's intent is. And if you rationalize where they are coming from, it would make sense if you have a softer tire you are going to go faster, but it is also going to give up. And when it gives up, there should be a greater advantage to hit pit road and get more tires than there used to be. That's the intent of it. It should work that way. We won't know until we've been to Vegas. But the theory behind what they are trying to do is that they don't want fuel mileage to determine the outcome of the race to win the race. The tires have been so good that you didn't have to get more tires. We saw that at Daytona.
How do you rank Las Vegas in speed to the other 1.5-mile tracks?
To me, Vegas drives like a shorter track than Kansas City, Chicago or a Michigan. At Kansas City and Chicago you have to read the name on the wall to know where you are because they are that close, and Vegas drives differently. Texas is a track by itself. Atlanta is a track by itself. And then you've got California and Michigan. Those tracks are different. California is different from Michigan. They are supposed to be copies of one another, but they don't drive like that. Vegas has got tighter corners so you have to handle a little better there.
With the new point system this year and the pressure to field a strong car, body and mind, do you feel drivers and crews will be reluctant to be sucked in to the Vegas nightlife or was that ever a factor at this race?
I can't speak for everybody. I know the crews are at track before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down. I don't know how much play time everybody really has. I know when I get out there I'm sort of messed up on the time zones so about 7, 8 o'clock I'm sort of looking for a bed to sleep in. As far as all the slot machines, cards, games and like that, I know some of the guys enjoy that. That is sort of their hobby and they try to find time to do it. But I don't know what percentage of the guys go there to gamble. Vegas is a neat city. There are a lot of shows and entertainment.
Do you gamble?
I'm not a big gambler. When we were out there testing I didn't put the first quarter in a machine. And I had to go out there again on sponsor business, and I had set a limit of 75 or 100 dollars. I played for a couple hours, had fun. When I lost my 100 dollars, I got up and walked away.
Is Las Vegas Speedway easier than Daytona?
I think the track puts the results in the driver's hands more than at Daytona or Talladega. And that has changed a little bit. With the new rules, the packs at Daytona tended to get broken up a little bit. But when you go to Vegas, handling is almost everything. But we saw that at Daytona in February, too. The faster cars didn't always get to the front. If they didn't handle good, they didn't get there. And that is the first time we've seen that in restrictor-plate racing for quite a while. But as a general rule, when you look at the season you don't really look at what happens at Daytona and figure if you are good there then you will be good everywhere else. But at Vegas if you run good the whole race, stay up front and finish well, what you learn there will apply to many, many other tracks, where what you learn at Daytona only works at Talladega.
I thought at one time you held the track record. Is this true and if so do you still hold the track qualifying record at Las Vegas Motor Speedway?
No, Bobby Labonte holds the record now from last year's qualifying. He did a 31.211 second lap -- 173.016 mph.