Pocono Race Delayed By Rain

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LONG POND, Pa. -- The rain and fog that caused postponement Sunday of the Pocono 500 means Ricky Rudd will have to wait another day to see if he's ready to win for the first time in nearly two years.

The race, only the second NASCAR event postponed in 27 years at Pocono International Raceway, was rescheduled for 10 a.m. EDT Monday. In 1979, the race also was run after a one-day postponement.

Rudd, who gave up as an owner-driver to move this year to powerful Robert Yates Racing, has good reason to be optimistic.

After suffering through a final season as an owner - one in which he failed to win for the first time in 17 years - Rudd sold his equipment and shed the dual role he so often said was too much to deal with. Now, he's in the famed No. 28 Ford of Yates, hoping to resurrect it as well as his career.

The car, driven over the years by a slew of Hall of Famers, including Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison, has become the second car in the Yates garage behind the No. 88 of Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett.

But Rudd is making it look like he can take the car back to the winner's circle for the first time since Ernie Irvan won three years ago in Loudon, N.H. Rudd has three top-five finishes in the last five races, and stands eighth in points, his best showing since a sixth-place finish in 1996.

"It really should been five out of five," said Rudd, who will start inside Jarrett on the second row. "There have been a couple of miscues late in the race, freak things happening, but the performance has been there."

Only Jarrett and Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte - each with four top fives in that span - have been more consistent.

"I've just been real pleased," Rudd said. "I can't think of anybody that's probably been any more solid week in and week out."

Part of the reason is the engine program of Doug Yates, who builds the powerplants for his father.

Those stout engines have carried the No. 88 to 18 victories in the last 4 1/2 years. But the No. 28 team has only the victory by Irvan.

Yates is encouraged not only by Rudd, but by crew chief Michael McSwain. He called the shots in Rudd's final season as an owner-driver.

"We couldn't be more pleased," Yates said, putting Rudd in a class with some of the recent drivers of the car. "Ricky Rudd is right up there with Ernie Irvan, Davey Allison and Dale Jarrett."

In Rudd, a 43-year-old Virginian, Yates sees a driver who puts to good use his 27 years in Winston Cup racing.

"He can probably give you more feedback than any racer I've ever worked with," Yates said.

But Yates realizes patience is the key to the union of Rudd and the 33-year-old McSwain.

"It will just take a little time to get everything to gel," the engine builder said. "They're just real close to becoming a very good race team."

Rusty Wallace, who set a track qualifying record with a run Friday at 171.625 mph, sits on the pole for the race. John Andretti has the outside of the front row.

After Rudd and two-time Pocono winner Jarrett come Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, both having bad seasons. Gordon is a three-time winner on the track, one of the few on which Martin is yet to be victorious.

Mike Skinner and Jeff Burton are in the fourth row, followed by Tony Stewart and former Pocono polesitter Joe Nemechek. Stewart will try to become the first driver to win three straight race since Gordon won four in a row in 1998.

Bobby Labonte, who last year became the first driver since Tim Richmond in 1986 to sweep the two summer races at Pocono, will start 11th.

The last postponement of a Winston Cup race was last October at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. The race was run the next day.

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