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NASCAR Rudd not ready for retirement



Published: Fri, April 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



He's 37th in the standings, but he blames that mostly on bad luck.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- With a NASCAR-record 757 consecutive starts in stock car racing's premier series, Ricky Rudd had to sweat out qualifying just to make No. 758 at Martinsville Speedway last weekend.

His team arrived 37th in points, having crashed in four races and suffered a freak mechanical failure in the other, and there were whispers that maybe Rudd could better serve his legacy by joining fellow Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin in their 2005 retirement tours.

But, at age 48, Rudd is more like a guy with a secret than one on his way out, and he and his Wood Brothers Racing team went into the sixth race of the season hoping to change their luck and show what they could do.

Rudd and his team started 13th, finished a solid seventh despite driving more to protect his spot than improve it and moved into the top 35 in points, guaranteeing his team a spot in this week's field at Texas.

"It doesn't sound like a big accomplishment, but it is because it frees up the opportunity to go work on race setup," said Rudd, now 34th in points.

Some good luck, too

He also had his share of good luck for a change, several times avoiding crashes that could have ruined his day on the tight oval.

"The waters sort of parted for us and it was just luck," he said.

He expects that success to be only the beginning, provided he gets continued chances to race his car -- rather than having to repair it.

"I can't ever remember a season in all the years I've been running that I would have cars that would run well and have so much bad luck," said the 25-year veteran, who has 845 starts overall. "It's a crazy deal."

It started with an accident and a rally to a 24th-place finish in the Daytona 500. He crashed early the next week at California, finishing 41st, and on the seventh lap at Las Vegas, finishing 37th.

At Atlanta, he was running in the top five and gaining on the leaders when a wheel bearing broke, causing him to limp home in 33rd.

A first for Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers team has been racing since NASCAR started, and team co-owner Eddie Wood said it was their first broken wheel bearing.

"Nothing tricky about it," he said. "It just decided, 'Let's get them today.' You can't press it. You can't panic. You can't change stuff.

"You just put something in your pocket and hope it goes away."

That something was a 1921 silver dollar given to Wood by a friend, a good luck charm that the team hopes will put Lady Luck on its side. Rudd has no doubt a little luck would silence his critics, and that good fortune is the only thing in the way of proving he's got fast cars.

"The results will come. The cars are there," he said. "A year ago, we weren't running good. We just weren't competitive and we would finish and run all day, but we just weren't running good.

"Now the cars are running good and not finishing because of wrecks. Either way, it's frustrating, but if I had a choice, I'd much rather be in a position where we're running well than running slow all day."

Rudd, crew chief reunite

A big reason for the team's high expectations comes from the reunion of Rudd with Michael "Fatback" McSwain, his crew chief with Robert Yates Racing. McSwain's hiring last August was a no-brainer, Wood said.

"There's not a lot of combinations since the beginning [of NASCAR] that really are magic, and this got two of those back together," he said.

Rudd said McSwain understands his language better than anyone else.

"I don't know how to explain it, but it works," Rudd said. "When I give him a description of the car, he's able to take that and adjust the car and next time I go out on the race track, I usually see the results."

For McSwain, it's a matter of being able to translate what Rudd tells him into mechanical adjustments that solve the problems.

"When you have a conversation with anyone, just because they say something's red doesn't mean that's what they mean. It may just appear red to them," he said.

"I try to listen to what he's really trying to say, to look beyond the words and see what's in his mind, basically."

As for those fans waiting for a retirement announcement?

"People are going to think what they may," Rudd said. "I know that as a driver and as a team, we can still get it done here."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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