Rudds Chances Of Staying Slim

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For all intensive purposes, Ricky Rudd won’t be back in the No. 28 Havoline Ford at Robert Yates Racing in 2003.

That’s been the speculation by many for several weeks now, but Monday, it came “straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“I’d say it’s slim (the chances of Rudd returning),” team owner Robert Yates said Monday. “I won’t say none, but I’d say slim because I think his best situation would be he goes somewhere that will be very competitive and pay very well. That’s just not in my deal. My deal is too thin. Very honestly, it’s just too thin.”

Performance certainly isn’t the problem, as is the case with most teams involved in the Winston Cup Series rumor mill. There are a couple of issues at hand for Rudd, who’s three-year contract with RYR ends at the end of this season.

“When I came in and took the ride at the 28, I took rookie pay,” said Rudd, who’s currently seventh in the Winston Cup standings. “I never complained about a dollar. I made my deal and we lived by it, but it was to get my foot back in the door in good equipment. Money was never an issue there then.

“We get to the end of a three-year contract and I said, ‘Robert, now is the time to catch up. I feel like I deserve Top 5 pay. We’ve been in the Top 5 every year. We’ve won races. We got the team back in the winner’s circle.’ But I said that I’m not asking for top-five pay, pay me top-10 pay, and that became a sticking point for a while. Sponsors have stepped in to try to make that working out.

“But there’s another key issue in there that is a stumbling point and that is that I want to make sure that if I come back to the 28 that it is indeed the 28 team as we know it today and not all the people have been moved off my team to a third team. So, that’s the sticking point.”

Rudd said that RYR will take on a third team for the upcoming season, in addition to the No. 88 team with driver Dale Jarrett and the No. 28 team. Several scenarios have been discussed, including Elliott Sadler coming over to the No. 28 team and Rudd driving a third car.

Should Rudd stay in the No. 28 car, Rudd said that he knows for sure that crew chief Michael McSwain won’t be with him on that team. That’s not at all what Rudd had planned for 2003.

“The stumbling block is that if I’m gonna come back and start with a brand new team again, it might be time to look around,” Rudd said. “I don’t even know who the people are who are gonna be working on the car next year, so how can I agree to sign when I don’t know who the people are who are gonna be working on the car. And that’s what it’s about – it’s about people.

“Again, there’s a third team that’s gonna be started at Robert Yates Racing. I do know the crew chief (McSwain) is gone. I identified key people who felt I was the heart of Yates Racing in my paperwork and Robert said, ‘I cannot agree to the terms of that. I can’t guarantee that you’re gonna have those people.’ The crew chief (McSwain) will not be with the Texaco 28 team next year, if I stayed. If I move on, there probably won’t be a third team. If I stay, there will be a third team.”

Yates himself said that it is “our desire” to have only two teams at RYR next season. Those words, coupled with what Rudd has conveyed, make it apparent that Rudd won’t return to RYR.

And even if Rudd did come back, it certainly won’t be the same between himself and Yates.

“Let me just say that a certain amount of respect that I’ve had for where I’m at is not quite there anymore,” Rudd said. “I don’t know (if the respect could ever be repaired). There will be cutbacks in the 28 team, if it stays as it is – I know that. That’s another thing. You can’t afford cutbacks. You need to be going the other way.”

That leaves Rudd with a few different options.

“I’m working as hard as I can trying to get things worked out,” Rudd said. “I’m getting close. I think that’s what I’m coming down to is being able to eliminate some options. I really feel like this week we’ll probably have something to tell everyone about. I was hoping I could wrap everything up and have some answers, but it’s not working out that way.

“A lot of it is timing and details. It is driving me nuts – without question. Again, it’ll all unfold and then I can give everyone the low-down, but it’s getting pretty intense and nerve-wracking.”

Sadler, who announced back in early May that he would not return to the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team, appears to be the leading candidate to take over the seat of the No. 28 car – providing that Rudd indeed does leave.

“Timing is everything in this sport,” Yates said. “I don’t know if it’s so much how smart you are or just where you’re standing at the right time. Certainly, he (Sadler) is a guy that I wanted to put on my list to compete against so I could sit down and make a deal. You can’t get one without two, that kind of a deal. You can’t go and negotiate when you don’t have a choice. You can’t go out in the middle of the ocean in a row boat and have only one life line and not give everything that you own, so I didn’t want to go into that deal with Ricky.”

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