Rudd Now The Man Of Iron
May 3, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
But from the twisty road course emerged the two longest consecutive-race streaks in NASCAR Winston Cup history.
Twenty-three years ago, Terry Labonte started a streak that lasted 655 races. Twenty-one years ago, Ricky Rudd started a streak that will reach 655 in this weekend’s Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
If Rudd qualifies for and races in Saturday’s event – he most assuredly will – he’ll match Labonte’s Iron Man streak. And if Rudd does the same at the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway later this month, he’ll replace Labonte as the owner of the longest consecutive race streak.
“I’m very proud of this record,” Rudd said. “To me, it says that I’ve worked hard and have been determined to do what I’m hired to do each week. Hopefully that says something good about me personally. I love racing and am very proud to be known for such a long run of consecutive races.”
Labonte’s streak ended in 2000 when injuries in a crash at Daytona forced him to sit out the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis – injuries that Labonte later learned could have easily been corrected, which would have kept his streak intact.
Labonte broke Richard Petty’s streak of 513 consecutive races at Martinsville in 1996, the same year Labonte won the Winston Cup title. Since then, four other drivers have surpassed Petty’s mark: Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader and the late Dale Earnhardt, whose death in the Daytona 500 last year ended a 648-race streak.
Rudd made his Winston Cup debut at Rockingham in 1975, but his streak didn’t start until he hooked up with DiGard Racing in 1981. Since then, he’s been a model of consistency, winning at least one race for 16 straight years, from 1983-98.
Saturday night’s race will be Rudd’s 742nd career start, ranking him fourth all-time behind Petty, Dave Marcis and Darrell Waltrip. In that span, Rudd has won 22 races and 27 poles while driving for 10 car owners.
Since the streak began, Rudd has driven for DiGard (31 races), Richard Childress, (60), Bud Moore (116), Kenny Bernstein (58), Rich Hendrick (117), himself (192) and his current car owner, Robert Yates (80).
“This record and my 16 season consecutive win record are very important to me,” Rudd said. “My fans were able to brag for years that we would get a win, and they also knew that we would be there working hard to be present on race day. I have a lot of pride in these two records.”
Rudd’s record has been a long road. During the streak, he’s racked up 192,873 laps and 234,866 miles. According to his sponsor, Havoline, that would require 78 3,000-mile oil changes. The distance would nearly equal the distance from the Earth to the moon and would equate to 93,946 laps around Daytona and 469,732 laps around Bristol.
Rudd stands eighth in the Winston Cup points standings heading to Richmond, with three top-five finishes – including a third Sunday at California Speedway.
Tying the record at Richmond and breaking it at Charlotte would be cool to Rudd. He’s made 47 career starts at Richmond, where he has two victories.
“The Richmond and Charlotte areas are very special places to me,” Rudd said. “I’ve lived in either the Chesapeake, Va. or the Charlotte area all my life, so these are my two home tracks. I really couldn’t think of any better places for me to earn this accomplishment.”
Except for maybe where it all started. Of course, that’s all gone now, but Rudd’s streak is still intact.