Ricky Rudd has won 19 times in his Winston Career and never thought he’d see the day when a 12th-place finish provided a sense of relief.
That, however, is exactly what happened last Sunday at Las Vegas.
The 41-year-old stock car star had started the 1998 season with finishes of 42nd and 43rd - both due to engine problems.
“We just needed to finish,” said Rudd, who completed 266 of the 267 laps on the 1-1/2-mile Las Vegas oval. “We hadn’t actually finished a race since September at Darlington, without having some kind of incident, engine failure, wreck or whatever.
“We’ve got to start to learn what it’s like to finish races again and, really, our goal is to get some points back. We need to get some 1998 points gathered up so we can make sure we’ve got a provisional (starting) spot if we need it.”
His effort at Las Vegas moved Rudd up from 42nd to 34th in the season points.
Through today’s Primestar 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, provisional starting positions will be based on car-owner points in the top 40 from 1997. Beginning with the race two weeks later at Darlington, those provisional will be based on this year’s top 40.
If you can’t beat ‘em …
Ray Evernham, crew chief for Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon, says his team is building one of the new Ford Tauruses. But don’t get too excited you General Motors fans, the project is only for evaluation purposes.
“Ford had the aerodynamic and horsepower advantage last year with the Thunderbird, and it was a good bit better,” Evernham said. “The Taurus was made specifically for racing.
“We’re building a Taurus and we have all the info. I’d love for someone to prove to me I’m wrong, but I know how good that car is. We work hard with what we’ve got, but I know my business and I know how good that car is.
“We’re going to run that Taurus with a Chevy engine (in testing) and prove the difference,” Evernham added. “We’re a little behind building it because we’ve been scrambling lately, but we’ll get it done.”
Evernham, whose driver won 10 races each of the last two seasons and has won the Winston Cup championship twice in the past three years, said he’s frustrated because he hates to lose.
“This is the only sport in the world where you’re penalized for being a good player,” he explained. “If you’re fighting Mike Tyson, you don’t stand around until he hits you because he’s going to hit you pretty hard. Then the fight’s over or you’re fighting him with one hand tied behind your back.
“All last year, with a car not as good as the Taurus, NASCAR had information that the Ford had more downforce. Now they’ve built a car twice as good … and we’ve got the same car.”
Derrike Cope’s introduction to his new team, Bahari Racing, has been a bit bumpy.
The former Daytona 500 winner has finished 37th, 29th and 31st in his first three starts with Chuck Rider’s Pontiac team.
“If you want to rate finishes and things of that nature, obviously we’d rate ourselves about a 5,” Cope said. “If you rate on heart, determination and relentlessness, I’d say we’re about a 9-1/2. I really believe these guys have the heart and desire to get it done. They’re sticking behind me even when we have some bad times. They don’t give up.
“That’s kind of the way my career has been. I’ve had to keep battling, believing and continuing on. You’re going to win some races doing that.”
Welcome to the bigs, kid
J.D. Gibbs, son of NASCAR team owner and former NFL coach Joe Gibbs, found out this week why Darlington Speedway is called “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”
The younger Gibbs, who is trying to start a racing career, tested a Busch Series Pontiac for two days on the 1.366-mile oval. He did not come away unscathed, hitting the wall between turns three and four.
“Yeah, I hit it all right,” said the 29-year-old Gibbs, who hopes to compete in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington on March 21. “It felt like a 300-pound lineman tackled me.”
The crash came in his second day of testing.
“Today, I got a little more nerve and tried for more speed,” he said. “I went into the corner too hard and the car just drifted up and popped the wall.”
The damage was minor and Gibbs said he came away from the two days of work with a good feeling.
“I just need laps here,” he said. “I can’t imagine coming here for the first time for a race and not having any practice beforehand. If anyone could come here and run fast right off the bat, they’d be my hero.”