NASCAR Media Conference
June 19, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: I'd like to welcome everyone to our weekly NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. That's the Toyota Save Mart 350, one of two road course races on the series schedule.
For those of you who will be at the track covering the event this week on Friday morning at 11:00 a.m. local time, the Nextel Wake Up Call guest will be Casey Mears. He will be visiting the infield media center to chat with the folks who are there covering the event.
Today we have two very special guests joining us for the call. Two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup veterans with great road racing resumes, two time series champion Terry Labonte coming out of retirement for one week to drive the No. 55 NAPA Toyota. He will be followed by Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 88 Snickers Ford.
Last year during Terry's final season in the series, his final part-time season, after very successful driving career, his best finish was at Infineon Raceway when he finished third while driving. Terry, you have always looked pretty comfortable on road courses. Why is that?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, I've always enjoyed running the road courses, and I guess that's what kind of got me off the couch here for this weekend. But always look forward to going to California there and running. We've got some pretty good runs out there in the past and you know hopefully we can have another one.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. Now we'll go to the media for questions for Terry Labonte.
Q. How important was it to get that Busch Series test up in Montreal just to knock off some of the rust on stock cars on a road course? And the second part, Ryan Newman earlier today said the race at Infineon was one of the most physically taxing that he had all last season. Any concerns on your part about getting through a full-length road course race and the hot weather?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, it's awful hot out there. It always is every year, and that is definitely one of the hottest races that we run. It's the same for everybody. So, I don't know, we've had to do that before, so we'll just have to do it again.
But a lot of times out there, it is awful hot. Who knows what next week it will be. I know it was hot last week out there. We'll see.
And the test at Montreal went real well, and I was able to spend the day up there driving one of Richard Childers' Busch cars, and so that was good.
Q. Give you the itch to try to get any more rides, even if it's just a road course deal?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't know. I think deal came up and I just, I thought, well, I've always enjoyed the road courses and so I just decided to run this one at Watkins Glen.
Q. Could you just talk about how this came about, and, you know, what will it be like driving a Toyota? What are your expectations going into the race?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't know. I hope that we do well. Michael and his team have worked hard to really get this thing on track and people -- a lot of people don't understand how difficult it is to have a new team and what challenges that they face. And they have, you know, been through some tough times. They have worked hard trying to get the thing on track. I think they have made some good progress. Michael had contacted me and asked me if I would come run the road courses for him, and, so, you know, I agreed to do that.
So I'm looking forward to getting in the car and kind of giving him some input. He's going to be able to step back this weekend and look at his whole deal a little bit from probably a little bit different side there.
So I, hope I can help him. It's going to be a big challenge, that's for sure. And of course it's an unknown going in with this new car that we're running. So we just have to wait and see how it goes, I guess.
Q. Can you tell us about the joys of retirement and what you've been doing and where you've been spending your time, Texas or Carolina or have you been galavanting around the globe?
TERRY LABONTE: I've been back and forth to Texas. I spent a lot of time in Texas there, after November to the first of the year. I'm back in North Carolina now, and just been, I don't know, doing all kinds of different stuff. Been busy. Haven't really accomplished much I don't think. Been going to some dirt races with my son and Kim and I have been able to do a lot of things we haven't been able to do before, so we've had a lot of fun doing that.
But every week, she asks me if I'm bored yet and ready to go back to racing or something. So I think she's ready for me to get out of the house for a weekend or two anyway. This opportunity came up with Michael, and I've just always enjoyed the road courses, so I felt like, why not go give it a try.
Q. Did it take a lot of prodding for you to come back, or did you jump at the chance?
TERRY LABONTE: Kind of a funny story, actually. Maybe I shouldn't say that but Rick Hendrick was the guy that called me because I guess Michael had call Rick and talked to him about it to see if he thought I would be interested. And Rick called me and I talked to him about it. I told him, "Yeah, sure, tell Michael to call me."
You know, I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think it's definitely going to be a challenge. I think that any time you start out with a new team like this -- they have really struggled at times, and still got a long ways to go. But I think they are definitely making progress.
So I talked to Michael for a long time about it. I hope I can help them a little bit and bring something, you know, to their team that if nothing else, just somebody else's opinion on some things that maybe they can work on.
Q. Have you missed any of this circus going on?
TERRY LABONTE: It's not bad watching it on TV except the races seem like they last an awful long time. I have watched some races on TV and there are some I haven't watched any of because I've been traveling or whatever. It's been okay I guess. I haven't -- there's been times I will say -- there have been times I have missed it and there's been other times that I have missed it.
You know, I'm going to run these races here for Michael and looking forward to that. But where it goes, if I run any more or not, I don't know. I told him some places I'm not interested in running that I didn't go to those places the last couple of years.
Anytime you've been in the sports as long as me and Ricky Rudd have, you still have kind of a passion for the sport and you love the sport even though you have done it for a long time, and it's nice to step away for a little while.
Q. Out here at Sears Point, Infineon, every year you were one of the top racers when you were on full-time and you showed you still had it last year. Just want to get your feel on who you think of the guys you raced against that are still racing and stuff, who would be the top three choices to win this race out here and what makes them good road races over others?
TERRY LABONTE: I think the obvious choices you have to go with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. They are at the top of their game on the road courses. Jeff, he really had a car that was fast, and he really gets around that track good. Tony Stewart is another guy that really runs well there.
As far as taking a third one, once you get past those two, it's difficult. I'd probably pick Juan Montoya just because he is probably -- obviously he's an outstanding road racer, but he's really adapted well with these cars. So I think he would be somebody that would be probably fun to watch.
Q. What makes them good road racers, and how much of it is their team and how much of it is the driver?
TERRY LABONTE: It's always a combination of things. I think you could put Jeff and Tony in any kind of car, and they are going to run good, no matter what kind of track it is. Those guys are just really good at the road courses and they have great teams, too. The combination seems to be awful good for them.
Q. Could you talk about the difference between Formula 1 and NASCAR, realizing you're a NASCAR veteran, but what challenges are there for Juan Montoya to move to a NASCAR road track this weekend?
TERRY LABONTE: I think we saw him down there in Mexico City in the Busch car; he ran just, you know, really, really well down there and was really fast. So I'm sure he's going to be awful good out here at Infineon, too.
So I think he's just going to be a guy -- one of the guys that everybody will watch because, you know, first time out on the track or whatever, you won't know -- it's going to be interesting to see how he does. And these cars are a little bit different than a Busch car, and definitely different than an F1 car. But obviously he's got a tremendous amount of talent and has adapted faster to the Cup cars than I ever imagined he would.
Q. Do you think the Car of Tomorrow will be as big a deal in Sonoma as it has been in Dover and other places; especially since Hendrick and Gibbs have dominated those races?
TERRY LABONTE: Sure, I think it's going to be the same thing. I think the guys that have really spent a lot of time developing a car, working on the geometry and the front suspension and the ride-highs and things like that, those are going to be the guys that run well. I think they have spent a lot of time trying to develop that car and it's paid off for them obviously.
It's one of those deals, the new car, tempos are all the same, and everything; but puts more focus on the smaller things, the chassis setups and things like that. And these guys have really worked hard on getting those things figured out, because they are definitely different than the old cars. And so I think the guys with kind of the best engineering teams have really came out on top so far.
Q. You've spent the majority of your career in a Chevrolet, how much difference will it make going from a Chevy into the Toyota car, and have you had much of a chance really to race with your brother, Bobby, and did you coming back, did that weigh into it?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't know, it's kind of a hard questions to answer. But the difference between the Toyota and the Chevy I have no idea. I guess I'll have to wait and see if there's any differences or not.
I still talk to my brother every week and keep up with him and everything. So it's going to be fun to go back to the track and run, and actually he was nice enough to give me a ride out there and back.
Q. What is your opinion of the emphasis that cars today put on the marketability of drivers?
TERRY LABONTE: Oh, man, that's a big part of it. It's huge because today the sport has got so expensive, and it costs so much more to race; that you have to have a sponsor, you know, that likes the driver and is able to use him in all kinds of different promotions.
And I guarantee you, the majority of the sponsors out here, their budget that they spend on a NASCAR deal is high on their list as far as the amount of dollars it is. And so, you know, it's pretty important to have a driver that's going to fit right in with their marketing plan and work well with their salespeople and things like that, and the people in the corporate office to make the whole thing work.
So because today, the sponsorship is so important for the team that it just kind of -- it works out that way.
Q. How much more difficult do you think it makes on putting teams together, not only putting at the season ahead, but long term?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't think it makes it any harder I guess. You know, I think you make obvious choices. And you've got guys that kind of have the whole package as far as they can get the job done on the racetrack and they can talk to the media and you can carry it up to your sponsor and they can talk to them, too. You know, kind of be able to do the whole thing. Because it's pretty easy if you have a guy that's pretty good, is a good driver; but if he can't communicate with the sponsor very well and can't come across to the fans, obviously he's not going to fit into your program. So I'm not sure that would make it easier actually.
Q. How would you compare the talent and depth of the drivers that are in the Cup series right now compared to years past?
TERRY LABONTE: You know what, I think it's always the same. People say it's tougher now than before, but they always said that. So they said the same thing ten years ago or 20 years ago.
So I would have to really say that I was able to race against some of the greatest drivers of all time, when you look back at guys like Lee Roy Yarbrough and Davey Allison and A.J. Foyt and guys like that. You wouldn't find many people back in those days that wouldn't agree those are some of the greatest drivers.
Today, when you have guys like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, and you know, a whole bunch of other guys out there that are about the same, I think it's -- this sport always has good talent in it but times change. The talent level is always high.
Q. Given that you have the six past champions provisional in your pocket, would you consider racing at other venues if there were other people that asked you under those circumstances?
TERRY LABONTE: No. I'm only planning on running Sears Point and Watkins Glen -- hopefully I won't need any of them but -- no. It would have somebody something that I believed in. It would have to be a teamed that I believed in and something that I would want to do. You're not going to see me get in a car just to go make a race and use a provisional. That's not going to happen.
That is not what the rule is intended for, and I don't think myself or Bill Elliott or the two guys that are out there that have championship provisionals available, neither one of us are guys that would go abuse them.
Q. I'm interested to know the hassle to get into this one race, for example you need a license and to have a suit fitted; can you just run through what you've had to do to make this happen?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, you know, I had a license. I got a license here awhile back because I was going to go run a couple of NASCAR short track races so got my license and got a uniform and helmet and everything and it's not the right color now so they ordered me a new NAPA uniform. So it has not been too big of a deal. People at Michael Waltrip have been real accommodating and really taken care of everything and got everything lined up real easy.
Q. Now Daytona is coming up pretty quick, it's going to be the first race at Daytona without Bill France, Junior, around. Have you thought about that, I mean, the lack of his presence now in the sport?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, I think it's -- I don't know how to say it other than, I don't think there's anybody in our sport that has done more for our sport, the sport of motor racing in the United States than Bill France. And he was just a great guy and did an incredible job with NASCAR. You know, taking it from where it was to where it is today and you know he was -- he was always the guy. He was there and he just, I mean, what he said, that's how it was.
I think he's going to be greatly missed by everybody in our sport, and I know there's some awful good people at NASCAR that are going to continue to keep the sport going in the right direction. But I think they will always be able to sit around the table and say, what would Bill do right here. I think it's going to be easier for him because of his strong leadership that he provided for the company for so many years.
Q. Are you glad -- you're not completely out of racing, but most of your years were spent in the Bill France era?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, I knew him and he was -- I think he did an awful lot for this sport, more than anybody ever could. And I think he brought it through some times where we saw the tremendous amount of growth, and it's sad. It sad that he's the not here, that's for sure and he's going to be greatly missed by a lot of people.
Q. Have you had an opportunity to test the Car of Tomorrow on a road course?
TERRY LABONTE: Actually I went yesterday to Cheraw, South Carolina and we ran about ten laps in it to make sure we had no vibrations and the rigs worked and all that stuff and the seat fitted and everything. That's all I've got in it was about ten laps.
Q. What was your initial impression of the car?
TERRY LABONTE: I was real pleased with it. I think that it was a really nice car. They did a nice job on it. I went down to the shop the other day and fitted the seat and they just had everything finished right in it, went in the car and the car was, you know, drove good and everything worked good on it.
So it's hard to test because that's not really a very good track to test on for one with those cars. And then number two is you don't have tires to test anymore, and so we had some like real old tires that didn't have much grip and stuff.
So it really wasn't a deal to go set the car up and see how it perform. It was just kind of shake it down and make sure we had no issues before we go to California.
Q. This is another completely off the wall -- as an old school guy who came up in the sport when you had broken legs and broken bones and they were lifting you out of the car, what's your thought on Jeff Gordon, No. 1, being able to contemplate skipping a race if his daughter is going to be born this weekend; what do you think of that whole prospect?
TERRY LABONTE: Well I think that's great. I think he's got -- the way the points system is now, he can afford to miss a race and still make the Chase. So you know, if that's what he decides to do I think that's great.
But that's a pretty important time when your children are born, and so I'm happy for him and hopefully he'll be able to run the race and get everything -- have this next week, I guess just wait and see, but I don't see any problem with it. I'm sure some of the fans can't understand it.
Q. No teleconference is complete without a Dale Earnhardt, Junior question, so I need to ask you as a guy who won a championship for Rick Hendrick and knows the ins and outs of that organization, what's your spin on Dale Junior going to Hendrick next year, and will he win a championship?
TERRY LABONTE: I think it is absolutely the best place for him to go. I think that it's going to be a great relationship there. I think that Rick will be able to do a lot for Junior and I think he's -- Junior brings a lot to the table as far as his ability, and it's going to be a great opportunity for him to win a championship.
So honestly, I was really happy when I heard that. I felt like that's going to be a great match there. I think Junior is going to fit in great with the team down there, with all of the people there. And I think that Rick is going to be a great, you know, role model for Junior, somebody to really look up to. I think it's just going to be a good combination.
Q. Just get your general opinion of the Montreal track, there are going to be a lot of passing up there and a lot of good action; and you mentioned you have a couple of short track races coming up so what's on your plate racing-wise other than these two Cup races?
TERRY LABONTE: I've got a short track race up in Maine, the Oxford 250, which I ran several years ago. I've ran it a couple of times I guess and another one up in Canada.
The test went real well at Montreal. Of course, any road course is pretty difficult to pass on. I think the thing that's a little bit different about that course is it's probably just a little bit narrower than what we're used to running on. But there are three or four areas that you can pass. I think it's going to be as good a race as we see at Watkins Glen or what you saw in México.
I think that the guys will have to be a little bit careful because I think you can abuse your brakes there. So I think that's going to probably come into being an issue for some of the competitors. But definitely not all of them. But if the guys don't have the proper cooling on the car, the proper brakes on the car and if they abuse them, they can get the brakes off. But other than that, everything I thought went real well. It's a pretty neat course. I think the guys that have some road racing experience are going to really like it a lot and I think it won't take the other guys, you know, that long to figure out, either. It's not like it's really a real, real difficult track, but it's going to take ten or 15 laps probably two or three times out on the track to get it figured out.
DENISE MALOOF: Terry thanks for joining us today. We really appreciate it. Good luck this weekend and have fun.
TERRY LABONTE: Thank you.
DENISE MALOOF: We are now joined by Ricky Rudd, another driver with considerable expertise on road courses. Ricky has two previous wins at Infineon Raceway, the last in 2005.
Thanks for joining us, and I'd like to start off with the same question I asked Terry. How do you explain your success on road courses through the years.
RICKY RUDD: Gosh, Denise, not really sure. I think it goes way back when I was a kid we used to race go-karts on tracks very similar to Infineon. We just never went to the West Coast. We grew up on the East Coast and stayed on courses like road Atlanta, VIR, tracks like that.
Seeing those tracks at a young age, I always liked road races and when I rode stock cars, they had maybe only one or two races a year on road courses. But anyway, I think it had a lot to do with just as a kid growing up and having fun and liking to race on them. That was as much about it as anything, as having an attitude about, hey, this is different than stock car racing, but let's go ahead and have some fun.
Q. Discuss the chemistry within the team the last time you won at Sears Point and what it's like now, because if I recall that day was so confusing that Mr. Yates didn't even make it to victory lane, and how have things changed so much since then.
RICKY RUDD: Well, it's changed quite a bit. The team, it's a different team now than it was then. We had -- Pat McSwain (ph) was our crew chief at the time, and Raymond Fox, I guess he's the car chief on the 38 team is still on the 38 team, but at that time he was with us. Basically a different group of people and at that time it was a lot different. We were coming to the end of a three-year contract at that time and you know, there was a lot of dissension within the team.
So the victory was -- any time you can win anywhere, it has away of fixing problems that are developing. That day was a little unusual. I would say that victory lane was sort of bittersweet because we were going in different directions even though we run the race. It was really a happy time and kind of a sad time all mixed in one.
Q. After Dover, you seem to be a little frustrated with the way that race ended, the crash with David Gilliland, could you just talk about coming back from your season off, how it's been this season as far as being a mentor for him, and also how the season has gone in general for you?
RICKY RUDD: Well, as far as probably the more -- the emotion at Dover when we got a wreck, we were 25 laps from the end of the race, and we just didn't have a good day at Dover and didn't run well. And that's a track I always like to go to. We were all very competitive, but Dave and I we were even cars that day. We were racing for position late in the race. David, if anything he was trying to hard. He actually moved down on the racetrack to let me pass. And when he moved down, because I was faster than him at the time, when he moved down he picked the worst spot in the world to do it. Where he moved down, it's a really slick spot on turn four, and it turned his car loose and then he hit me and took me out of the race. The frustrations, Dover is always a good racetrack for us, and we struggled that day and 25 laps from the end of the race. Our Car of Tomorrow, we're still working on it, but those cars still take so long to build. We're short on fleet and it was a car we couldn't afford to lose and I think we ended up destroying it.
Q. You're one of the multiple winners at Infineon and you do always do well on the road courses. You won there in 2002, but who would be your top three picks other than you or Terry Labonte for the road races?
RICKY RUDD: I think you're asking me to pick a favorite. It would be hard. There's a lot of good guys out there with good equip many. The Car of Tomorrow is a new variable in the equation. You have a fleet of the ringers they bring in, I guess Boris (ph) and I'm sure Ron Fellows will be out there and more guys that definitely know how to get it done on the road course. But as far as picking a favorite, I would just go back and look at the last couple of previous winners out there, and I would be a little apprehensive of making predictions based on that because of the Car of Tomorrow, which is a different driving race car than what we are used to running out there.
So it's really getting back to, you've got to look at the Hendricks camp real well. They have sort of dominated the Car of Tomorrow events. So you would have to definitely put all that group in that list of favorites.
Q. But other than that, I've seen where even when you have good equipment, some guys do well on road courses and others don't, like Jimmie Johnson was saying that he looks forward to a good finish and possibly winning out there one of these years but it's a stressful experience, road racing, where I guess any one little mistake can sort of throw you off, time-wise, anyway. But other than that, I guess it's going to be a wide-open race, would you say?
RICKY RUDD: Yeah, I think that's the best way to word it. I would not -- I would hate to go there and wager money on a favorite out there, just because you've got too many variables. And a lot of these guys have been road racing that maybe traditionally have not done very well and yet they run more road races than they have in a long time. Some of the guys went to Mexico City, and then you've got guys that I've seen it happen before where guys aren't particularly good on road courses and all of a sudden they show up at four or five years later and you have to run road courses and next thing you know they are battling for a win and they have not done that before.
So it's really hard to pick a favorite. Fuel strategy and all kind of things play into mind there. It's a tough racetrack. It's very tough and it's a very physical racetrack. But gosh, I'd be scared to death trying to pick a favorite for you.
Q. What about Ford and being a little bit behind the 8-ball, particularly on the Car of Tomorrow, and more particularly I guess Robert Yates, your team and stuff, will you guys get caught up on this road course, and is this an opportunity, or is this another race where you may still be behind the 8-ball a little bit?
RICKY RUDD: I think the only way you can get out from behind that 8-ball is to test, test, test and run programs and don't go out there just to run laps. Come to the racetrack in a test mode and be prepared to make a lot of geometry changes to your chassis and be creative and open-minded, and but it means a lot of test time.
We have been to VIR and we've spent a couple days and it went okay but not exactly like we needed to do. So we went back another day. So we have three days at VIR but doesn't guarantee your success at Infineon. But we went through a lot of different built-in geometry changes and found some things that we like that we think will work for us at Infineon, but we won't know until we get to the racetrack here and get to the racetrack on Friday.
But as far as the test program at Yates, there's no question about it. The Car of Tomorrow program has been behind quite a bit and we've been playing catch-up ever since. The only thing I can say is VIR went pretty well compared to the other cars over there testing, some good teams were there. Speeds looked good and the big thing at Infineon, will the car stay good, and that's something we've been struggling with on those cars.
Q. Ever since Daytona, it's been rough for David, and after his incident with Tony the other day, Stewart, suggested that maybe David even needs more time in the minor leagues before he's at this level. I mean, setting aside the fact that he's your teammate, given the experience, do you think he belongs in the NEXTEL Cup series?
RICKY RUDD: I think he belongs and let me clear something up. Tony is Tony. What else can you say? You can't question his driver ability. Everybody knows he's one of the best, if not the best out there. But he has a habit of running his mouth at the wrong time. David got blamed for that wreck. That wasn't David's fault. No one ever came around and asked anybody else what happened. But the videotape clearly shows what happened and Tony screwed up. He just misjudged his chance and ran into the back of David. And David doesn't have a presence out here and can't fight that battle, but I can tell you that was not David's fault the other day, but the media seemed to jump on it and write it the way Tony spoke it.
But anyway, that being said, David Gilliland definitely belongs in Cup racing and he's got all of the talent and he adapts quicker than anybody I've ever seen at a racetrack and he's right up to speed immediately.
Our team is not where it needs to be yet. They have been working hard trying to get there and they are making progress, but I think before you can make judgments on David, I think he really -- the whole thing has to come together. And our Speedway Program is second to none; Daytona Talladega, there's not a team out there that has better Speedway stuff, and if you look at it that way, that's the really only fair chance David has had this year; and he's been very competitive in all of those races, he runs extremely well.
Q. Do you think a rookie like Montoya can be successful just based on Formula 1?
RICKY RUDD: I think Juan can definitely be competitive at Infineon. I don't know if it's his Formula 1 experience or in a lot of ways that could probably be a detriment because the cars are so light and agile compared to a heavy Cup car.
But I would not rule him out especially based on what I saw in Mexico City. 90 percent of your passing, at least 95 percent of your passing is done under braking for the corners at Infineon and that's where he excels. Nobody drives any deeper in the corners and gets by with it like Juan. So you know I definitely put him in there as being one of the favorites.
And to answer the question, can he adapt since he's relatively knew to this sport; if there's a place he's going to shine, it's going to be at Infineon and Watkins Glen.
Q. On ESPN last night, they were showing highlights of the 1989 race with Rusty; that one of your favorite memories of Sonoma?
RICKY RUDD: I remember it turned out well for us; I remember that. It was touch-and-go there for a little while. It was a lot of fun, the flat tires, cars bounced around and moved around a lot and seemed like we spent half the time in the dirt as you did on the racetrack. Not to say it's not the same now, but the transmissions in these cars have -- it definitely has evened up the competition, which came around shortly after that race, probably in the early 90s which allows drivers to brake with their left foot which means no extra coordination has to take place with downshifting. So, miss those days because it eliminated a lot of the competition.
Q. The 1992 race is probably one of the most memorable ones, Ernie had the black flag at start of the race and passed 40-something cars to win; how difficult is that to pass especially on a road course, and do you think that will ever happen again, especially with the Car of Tomorrow?
RICKY RUDD: It's hard to say. The Car of Tomorrow, the guys that figure it out, you can come up with a tremendous advantage for the very few that hit that combination right. And there's a lot of guys that are okay and a bunch that miss it all together.
I could see the chance of somebody hitting on a dominant setup like Ernie and his team did back in those early 90s, and you know he definitely was a class of the field that day for sure. No other way to prove it than to do it the way they did it. They didn't get it easy. The circumstances of the pit stops didn't put him up there; he just raced through the field.
Q. Did you keep in touch with Ernie?
RICKY RUDD: I saw him at Michigan. I see him around a little bit. He has a charity walk that he does I guess to raise money for the head injury foundation, and he was up there and looked good. Looked healthy.
Q. We've got Daytona coming up and I'm working on stuff that, this is going to be the first race without Bill France, Jr. around. Can you talk about that a little bit, and is there going to be an empty feeling around that place when you get there?
RICKY RUDD: You know, Bill definitely had a presence in the sport for many years, and as his health declined, we saw less and less off him. We were sort of I guess being waned from his presence. We missed seeing him. Like I say, he was a guy you could go out and have a really good conversation with about the sport where it's headed, and, you know, walk away from there feeling, hey, we've got a guy here really leading us and he's a strong leader.
Definitely he will be missed. Unfortunately his health was declining in later years and you didn't see him that much in the last couple of years, but he definitely will be missed.
Q. How tough do you think it is on young or inexperienced drivers to balance their effort to be competitive on the track with the fact that they are still learning and dealing with their inexperience while they are on the track?
RICKY RUDD: Well, you know a lot of -- I will say this; that there's been no better time in the history of racing where a young guy gets a chance to sort of prove himself. The downside of that is that if you don't prove yourself or if you don't do remarkable things on the racetrack, it seems like your job is in jeopardy as quickly as you get here. So a lot of pressure on these guys to perform once you they do get here.
Like I say, a lot of pressure but they are getting the opportunities. And it's tough, not only do they have to learn how to drive the race cars and racetracks and how do they handle the media; there's a lot of things on their shoulders. It's a lot different coming along now as young drivers as it was when I came along. But I necessarily wouldn't want those pressures that these guys have got.
Q. Looking at younger drivers before they get to the next level, how much do you think there's more emphasis and efforts put into driver development programs these days?
RICKY RUDD: Well, I think what it's doing is showing that you have a future. At one time you had to come from certain -- you had to come from a certain ranks, generally stock car racing at your local tracks. And it's a pretty lengthy process to get yourself recognized to get to a point where you could ever -- you'll never go way from a late model car -- you would never go to top equipment. You would work your way through the Cup division and might be lucky to get a car in a C-type effort and of years of proving yourself you might get a shot at a B-level.
Nowadays these guys are being recognized at the early stages and they are being put into a regular training environment where they can showcase their talents, and by the time they get the Cup, they are pretty prepared. At least they have been used to running the big tracks and such where years ago, they didn't get a chance to see the big tracks until their first opportunity to show up in a Busch car.
Q. When you stepped out of the car last year, how much do you really miss it?
RICKY RUDD: To be honest in the early goings I didn't miss it at all. I enjoyed the time off. I didn't really follow the sport, not because I didn't want to; just we were so busy just, you know, doing everything, just catching up on life really. It probably wasn't until about September, October right in that area. I went and I was fooling with my go-karts and playing with those a lot and decided to run a race, which I had not done in 35 years, and that sort of got the taste going again when we went and ran a CART race at Indianapolis and then I started missing it.
Q. One for follow-up to that; when you decided to come back, were you going to come back regardless of the team, or were you wanting to come back more to a more established team?
RICKY RUDD: Well, there's a lot of opportunities when I first stepped aside early on in January, February in that area. But mainly it was about programs that would be coming on for the 2008 season, not for the '07 season. Some of it was '07 limited schedule stuff.
But I really put all of those plans on hold and I just told the team owners that I'm honored that you're talking to me about that, but I've got to figure out what I want to do first before it's fair to get you guys and talk seriously.
The Yates situation came in probably October, November, right around that area, and about the time I realized that I was ready to go back to competition. At that time of the season, there's not many opportunities available that late in the season. So as it turns out the Yates camp had called and they were in a major rebuilding process, and I thought that I could help contribute to help get that program turned around a little bit.
Q. It's great to see you behind the wheel of a stock car. I was wondering, back in 2002 when you broke Terry's start record and you went on to get 788 consecutive starts; how important is that record to you?
RICKY RUDD: Well, I think that right now, the number is running up there but it's not consecutive anymore.
But I think at that time, I had not thought that much about it. But then, you know, being brought aware by the media and such, that record was getting ready to be broken, I think it's a pretty neat record, because consecutive means day-in and day-out, good, healthy, not healthy, sick, doesn't matter. We were still there. We made it happen and kept the consecutive streak going.
You have to be in awe of the people there before me. Richard Petty was the guy if I'm not mistaken is the guy that had it before him so, it's a big honor to be in that company.
Q. Since you have seat time in the COT and you tested at VIR who are the positives and negatives compared?
RICKY RUDD: We went to VIR to answer that question, and the team needed to know and I needed to know as a driver. The car at VIR which is a relatively smooth racetrack, it wasn't a huge different. They didn't drive quite as well and didn't stick in the corners quite as well and didn't get the forward traction. We fought that quite a bit.
But overall the feel is very similar. Through the S's, the cars go very similar. The Car of Tomorrow doesn't like a track that has a high bank or a lot of bumps in it, especially on a high bank. That presents the most problems because one of the bigger differences is that you're limited to your suspension travel because of that front valance on the Car of Tomorrow, the front splitter. You have a little less than I think half of the normal suspension travel that we normally would get. So bumps and banking tend to aggravate that, but more the banking than it does the bumps I think.
Q. Any plans for next year, solid plans for next year?
RICKY RUDD: Not really. I haven't thought that far ahead. We are struggling to get our program together right now. We've had a few good things happen, but we're still struggling trying to get going and performance is getting better on the racetrack but not to the level we need to be. We are not near where we need to be to get into the Top-10s on a regular basis. Charlotte, had a good run there, but the Snickers Ford team, they are working on it and going after it as hard as they can, and we're seeing progress.
But until we see some good things happen on the racetrack because the steam has gotten stronger, I don't think until that time happens that it's time to talk about next year really.
Q. What do you think your chances are this weekend getting the win?
RICKY RUDD: I hate to put any kind of odds on it. I was telling one of the fellows earlier, it's just the nature of that racetrack, you've got a Car of Tomorrow thrown in the equation and it would be hard to pick a favorite.
I think we're going to be good, don't get me wrong, but sitting down to predict wins it pretty hard to do. Even the guys that are used to winning out there, it's going to be hard for them to predict wins because the car is going to go different from what they normally run. They cannot roll out setups; that car doesn't exist now. Guys are going with different equipment than they have run ever, so I would hate to pick a favorite.
Q. You talked about ringers earlier in the call and one of those ringers this week is Terry Labonte as it turns out. How difficult is it to stay retired when there are obviously car owners out there that want experienced guys to come back even for a race or two; how are you surprised that Terry jumped at the chance to come back?
RICKY RUDD: No. I'm not surprised because Terry, I think it as was last year, didn't he finish second in that race last year?
RICKY RUDD: Terry is a road racer, what I call a true road racer that they gave us the old-style transmissions, Terry would still be competitive. I think Terry is coming out on the road because he loves road racing and he loves road racing in a Cup car and I think he'll do very well. I don't think his time away will hurt him at all. I didn't listen to the earlier part of the teleconference, but what I noticed for me is I looked forward to going up to VIR, not so much as a test day, just to see what new equipment will do; but really to test myself and get myself back in the rhythm of a road race. And that first day, I probably spent the first three outings just trying to get familiar with everything again, and then it's like, you know, that old bicycle, 'I remember how to do this now.'
Without that test session, I would not have liked to have gone to Infineon without any practice or tuneup for the driver, and I'm sure Terry has got seat time somewhere to tune himself up. But I'm sure he will be right on his marks when he gets there.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks for joining us today. We appreciate the time and good luck this weekend.
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