Rudd not interested in spinning wheels

Winston Cup driver has deadline for new contract

Auto Racing

July 05, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A couple of months ago, Ricky Rudd was so frustrated by the way his season was going and by the way the youth movement was overwhelming the Winston Cup Series, he threatened to retire at the end of this season.

After a month of solid runs and a victory at the Dodge/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, Calif., two weeks ago, he is rethinking the word "retirement."

"I wouldn't rule it out, but, I'd say, it's not my No. 1 priority," he said yesterday as thunderstorms rolled over Daytona International Speedway, forcing the postponement of qualifying for tomorrow's Pepsi 400 until 10 a.m. today. "I guess I've been spoiled by such good runs here recently. The car has been good. It's been competitive, and that's why I went racing in the first place.

"I've put in a lot of time that we weren't all that competitive and now to be with a team that is so competitive, that certainly weighs on the decision process."

In the past seven races, Rudd has moved from 10th in the points standings to within four points of sixth place. In that time, he has one win, two top-five finishes and one top 10. He dominated two other races but finished in the top 20 when a mechanical problem struck.

Already he has 23 victories, is tied for the modern-day (1972 to present) record for most consecutive seasons with at least one victory at 16, and is the series' iron man with a record 660 consecutive starts. So what does Rudd, at age 45 the second-oldest full-time Winston Cup driver, want?

"A one-year contract," said Rudd, who hasn't totally dismissed retirement in the foreseeable future.

It sounds so simple, but, of course, it isn't.

Rudd is in the final year of a three-year deal with owner Robert Yates. Last year, the team was a championship contender but faded to a disappointing fourth at season's end. After a slow start this year, the Ford team has righted itself and Rudd has decided he wants to stay.

"Robert and I talked today," Rudd said, "but we really don't have anything resolved. There are a lot of `what if' scenarios."

The one-year contract doesn't work for every owner. Yates has to sign sponsorship deals to keep the team going. Many sponsors want longevity. Car owners want longevity. Yates has to make a lot of people happy.

Rudd, who said he has to stick to the July 15 deadline he originally set, also said there are "three or four deals on the table" that include offers from a Dodge, a General Motors and a Ford team.

"The thing is, I want to stay," Rudd said. "I don't want to give up what it has taken so long to get.

"We're only in our third year with this team, but some of these guys I've been together with for probably seven years. You don't want to throw that communication away because it takes time to build - but again, I'm not the one totally in the driver's seat."

That would be Yates.

"We'd each like to have the best deal whether we're together or apart," said Yates, who earlier this season said it was his first priority to get Rudd signed. "We have the ability to come home with the championship - we're good enough."

But when or if Yates and Rudd reach agreement is still in the offing, and time is short.

"If [Yates] doesn't offer [a deal] by the 15th," Rudd said, "I've got to move on. I want to stay, but I can't wait longer because my other opportunities would be gone."

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