Misfortune Finds Rudd Again

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With a modicum of good luck – heck, just without bad luck – Ricky Rudd would have woken up Monday morning with three victories in his last four races.

But Rudd is clearly snakebit, as he’s managed to lose three races with combinations of poor timing, untimely mistakes and sour luck. Instead of three wins and a fourth, he has a fourth and three, well, let’s not talk about it.

His misfortune is so bad that other drivers are starting to feel sorry for him. At Pocono on Sunday, Rudd was comfortably in the lead with six laps to go when a right-rear tire started to go flat, and he lost the lead.

“I hate to see Ricky Rudd have the luck he’s having,” Jimmie Johnson said. “The poor guy, he can’t get a break anywhere.”

Gee, thanks, Rudd must think.

Of course, Johnson has a point. After Rudd was third at California Speedway at the end of April, he had climbed up to eighth in the Winston Cup points standings. At Richmond, Rudd jumped into the lead in the Pontiac Excitement 400 and was probably headed to victory when – poof! – Rusty Wallace slammed into him in Turn 2. Rudd was 39th.

Rudd bounced back to finish fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 and put himself in position to win the following week at Dover. Crew chief Michael McSwain called for four tires on the final pit stop, and Rudd was moving in on Johnson, the leader who took two.

But – poof! – Rudd’s chances for a victory went away when a wheel started to work itself loose. Rudd was 19th.

He bounced back to put himself in contention again at Pocono, but – poof! – another victory was taken away, with teammate Dale Jarrett taking advantage. Rudd was 17th.

“We were just sitting there biding our time, waiting and watching the laps count down, watching that rearview mirror and keeping that space with DJ,” Rudd said. “We were able to pretty much keep it the same. It looked like we had him. He made a couple of runs at it, and then he faded back. We had him. I wouldn’t say I had anything left, that was all I had, and he was driving as hard as he could.

“But it looked like we were going to end up there with about a second lead at the end of the race. And it just didn’t happen.”

That’s a much softer way of saying bad luck struck again. Of course, Rudd seems to struck by it more than others.

“Ricky seems to go through this,” Jarrett said. “He and that team have gone through this for three years now. They get on these stretches. They run so well week in and week out and put themselves in that position, and then they have the craziest things to happen. I know that we’ve all been through similar things, but not as often as what Ricky and that 28 team have.

“I guess if you run as well as they do week in and week out, that opportunity is there more for that to happen than a lot of the rest us. It’s very, very unfortunate. I can sit here talk all day and that’s not gonna do them any good, but you can tell him, ‘Hey, you had the best car here.’ It came from the back of the pack and pretty much had this won and a had a chance at winning last week. They made the right call, got themselves in a position to do that.”

Jarrett, who was about a second behind Rudd when the bad luck struck, all but admitted he wasn’t going to pass Rudd. Unless something happened.

“I don’t think that I could’ve – I might’ve could’ve caught Ricky right at the end, but we were so even,” Jarrett said. “I would beat him five-hundredths or a tenth one lap, and he would beat me a little bit the next. So, I might’ve could’ve got there, but passing him would’ve been a different story.

“I’ve always said that if you’re trying to win a race the hardest thing to do is try to chase down another Yates engine. I was going to be perfectly happy in finishing second. If I’m going to finish second, the guy that I want to beat me is my teammate, Ricky Rudd. That’s two weeks in a row for those guys, and it’s very unfortunate.”

There is solace for Rudd, a moral victory, if you will. His car was running well enough to win three races.

“I guess the good thing is we’re up front when we’re having trouble, leading races, and just a lot of freak circumstances,” Rudd said.

And he’ll get another chance to win Sunday at Michigan, where he finished second to Jeff Gordon last year.

“Nothing we can say is going to make him feel better, other than they don’t have to wait long to go to Michigan where they know they’re going to have a chance at winning again,” Jarrett said. “I’m sure that now that they start looking at, ‘My gosh, what’s gonna happen next?’ But hopefully they’ll just continue to work hard, and we’ll continue to work together, and if I can say anything good about it, at least it was his teammate that benefited from his problem.”

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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