Iracingone On One:/I Ricky Rudd

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Each week, RacingOne’s Shawn Akers sits down for an exclusive interview with a NASCAR star. This week, Ricky Rudd jumps into the hot seat and addresses his need for a championship, NASCAR’s growing pains and his excitement about his new team.

RacingOne: Has your first season with Robert Yates racing been everything you expected it to be?

Rudd: Yeah, I think so. It's not like this was as super-magic deal, we had to make it work. A lot of changes were made, not only the driver, but a lot new personnel were brought in from my old team and others. It's been a big year of change for the team. Any time you make that many major changes, you know it's going to take a little time to jell. We've done very well.

RacingOne: Is there a certain level of success you expect to reach each year with this team? If so, what kind of pressure does that put on you?

Rudd: I know they've got the resources to work with. They've got a great engine program. But you've got to kind of look at it this way, I didn't step in on the heels of Davey Allison leaving the race team. I stepped in many years later. Through the years, a lot of key people have come and gone. The team was once at the highest level, and then it went down a few notches, and I knew that. But I also knew they had the resources, like Robert Yates-Doug Yates engines, aero support from Ford, and you had a good bunch of guys that needed some leadership, and (crew chief) Mike McSwain brought that to them. Knowing a rebuilding task was in front of us, we knew it was going to be a challenge. It's like a pro football team that had once won the Super Bowl and had slipped back to the middle of the pack. And we haven't gotten to where we are because of me, it's just because it's part of the process. We're not at the top yet, but we're getting really close to it again.

RacingOne: Do you miss being a Winston Cup team owner?

Rudd: No, not at all. Not one bit. As a team owner and driver, you had to wear many hats. One of the hats I didn't wear particularly well was going out and looking for new sponsors. I sort of got complacent with the sponsors we had. We didn't have the money to work with, and we kinda got stuck in a rut there. We didn't start off in poverty, as a matter of fact, we started off with one of the best sponsors dollar-wise in Winston Cup. But as everybody knows, the cost of racing escalated tremendously, and our dollars did not, so what was once a good sponsor wasn't basically enough to sponsor a good Busch team. We tried to continue with that, and I wasn't very good at raising money. That was one of my biggest weaknesses. In the ownership role, had we had the resources to work with, things might have turned out a little different. So, I have no regrets about leaving the ownership role behind. I learned a lot, but I learned I really didn't want to be a team owner anymore. This deal with Robert Yates Racing just worked out perfect as far as the timing was concerned.

RacingOne: Were you surprised when Tide pulled away from your previous team?

Rudd: The problem you have with you some of the sponsors is that, well, we had a good relationship with some of the management there when we started. A lot of people came and went throughout the years. The trouble with that deal was that the new people that came in that were calling the shots as far as the sponsorship dollars went had no concept or no understanding of racing. They just didn't know the sport. A couple of them thought they did, but they didn't know the sport like the people that originally set the program up. They sort of got suckered into fancy presentations and things like that instead of where they should have really put their money. Again, we were 50 percent under-funded most of the time. The only regret is that when the new team stepped in with that sponsorship, they got double the funding than what we did. I would have liked to have tried another year with the funding that team got.

RacingOne: You’ve been in Winston Cup racing for a long time. What’s the biggest difference from when you started to now?

Rudd: There's just more of everything these days. It takes more people to run a team these days. The schedule continues to grow. It costs more money, and it takes more equipment. The Cup teams, when I started, would have been like a small ARCA team today. That's how much it's changed. A small ARCA team these days basically has more resources than what Cup teams did back when I started.

RacingOne: Was your streak of winning at least one race per year -- a streak that ended last year -- something that was dear to you, or did the media and fans make too much of it?

Rudd: That was something special. It was something nobody else could really lay claim to. I hated to see it come to an end, but realistically, it should have come to an end a year earlier. There were a lot of things we wanted to do, but you can't go out and fight these guys with one arm tied behind your back. That's what we were trying to do. We really didn't have a legitimate shot in 1998 or 1999 to show what we could do. We knew we needed more wind-tunnel time, but that costs money. We know we needed a Robert Yates engine program, but that costs money. There were a lot of things we just couldn't do. I didn't have a deep pocket, and I wasn't about to go to the bank and borrow tons of money that I never could pay off again. From a technical side, we should not have even won in 1998, but I hated to see it come to an end. There wasn't much we could do about it.

RacingOne: It took Dale Earnhardt 20 years to win the Daytona 500 and you’ve been there just as long without winning it. Is that the one race you’d most like to win?

Rudd: The Daytona 500 is a unique race. If you look back over the years, certain teams, and I say teams and not drivers, win the Daytona 500. That's because the teams put a lot of resources into that race. They spend a good percentage of their team budget for all of those races down there. Looking back, in the early 1980s, I had one of my best chances of winning that race. I think I finished third, and that was back when Robert Yates was building the engines and the team was very much concentrated on winning the Daytona 500. Now I'm with a team that focuses very heavily on restrictor-plate races. This is the type of team you can wi

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