Photo by: Jeff Kluss/ Sports Image Times
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion, heads into tomorrow’s race following his best finish of the season: seventh, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. He holds the Dover International Speedway record with 55 starts and 23,035 laps, and shares the track mark with 26 top-10s. His first start at the one-mile, high-banked concrete oval was in 1976. His four victories (1986, ’87, ’92 and ’97) are tied for most among active drivers.
RICKY RUDD – No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion – DOES A CONCRETE TRACK LIKE THIS CHANGE MUCH FROM YEAR TO YEAR? “No, it changes very little. That’s one advantage of a concrete track – it’s got really good repeatability. From year to year it just weathers better. The temperature sensitivity – if it’s sunlight versus overcast, it’s not as critical.”
“This was blacktop for many years. This used to be a really good race track, blacktop-wise, and it was that way for many years. It had a bottom groove and a top groove, and it would run three-wide – it was unbelievable racing.”
THIS TRACK IS UNIQUE ON THE CIRCUIT. AS A DRIVER, WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES IN GETTING READY TO RACE HERE? “To run fast here, you’ve got to be able to get down in the corner really good – you’ve got to be able to leave the wall and get down into the corner – and I’ve always worked on getting that part straightened out first. And, that’s not usually a big issue. The big problem is once you get to the center of the corner, in race trim, you want your car to be able to stay low on the race track – if it does that, generally, it gives you flexibility to drive out and wide if you want to. I’ve always wanted to get mine to stay down low in the center – the number one issue at Dover is late-exit push – but as you hug the bottom of that race track, the radius of the corner is much tighter, it takes more steering wheel angle to make that. And everybody generally fights a push here, and that’s the number-one problem at Dover, is trying to get it where the front-end stays connected, and that’s what separates competition. Everyone will end up having to soft-pedal on the exit of the corner and won’t run 100 percent throttle. The guy that wins the race, he might carry 90 percent throttle, and the guy that runs second, he might carry about 85 percent. So, that’s what you work on – the exit of corners, into the straightaways.”
THE TEST HERE WAS CANCELLED. HOW DOES THE CAR OF TOMORROW RUN ON THIS TRACK? “It’s not a car issue. The big problem that we struggle with – and it’s either you hit it or you don’t – because the Car of Tomorrow, the air dam only has so much clearance, they limit you to the inspection heights, and I don’t know what that number is, whether it’s three inches or four inches, but that’s all the available travel you have, which is about half of what we normally deal with. So, when you go down the straightaway and then go into these large banks, that soaks up a lot of travel right there. So, everybody is stopping their car with a coil-bind situation, basically the spring goes solid and that stops that front air dam from hitting the race track.
“You’ve got to do something because you can’t just drive in there – when the front air dam touches the race track, your car goes all to pieces. You’ll hit so hard enough, you’ll hit the fence because it goes in and it slides – it’s like your front tires aren’t touching the ground when you’re on the front air dam. That’s what happens. You need to get better with your computer modeling program that you’ve got, your pull-down fixtures that you’ve got at the shop where you pull the car down to what you think it’s going to travel. It puts a lot more stress on the cars that are coming to the race track, being able to deal with that available travel we have. And that’s what we’ve missed here. We missed it. We were on the air dam, and then we weren’t on the air dam. That’s a very sensitive area to be able to stop the car – stopping it is not a problem, the problem is getting it to soak up that energy nice and progressively instead of spiking it. If it spikes, the car’s no good. If it loads up nice and evenly and you time your left-front stop with your right-front stop, the car goes around the corners. If you miss it, it’s a nightmare. And that’s what we’ve been fighting. It becomes a very technical procedure now, where it becomes a science project.”
LAST WEEK AT CHARLOTTE YOU QUALIFIED SEVENTH AND FINISHED SEVENTH. IS THAT A PRETTY GOOD INDICATOR OF WHAT THE 88 TEAM CAN BE RIGHT NOW? “Well, I think we’re hit and miss. You’ve got to separate it three ways – you’ve got your speedway cars, your Daytonas and Talladegas; the Car of Tomorrow; and your standard car that we’ve run for quite a while. Our speedway cars, that program is excellent – we just didn’t get our results. That program doesn’t need anything, it’s very good. Our Car of Tomorrow is terrible. We’re playing catch-up really bad. We were playing catch-up on the standardized car because Goodyear came out with much harder tires, and the stuff that they had hit on late in the year doesn’t work now. So, they gone back and built new race cars, they’ve cut bodies up and it’s not so much a trial and error, they know what they need to do, but then you’re trying to get the changes made and then go to a test session and get it worked out – and that’s why we were good at Charlotte. They had a right plan on how to put the bodies on. In Charlotte we had two days of testing and then came back for another two days because you had the Nextel Open and all of that, so we were probably as better prepared for that – we had track time, and it showed up in our results. Here, we came in on the blind. There’s no question that if we had two days of testing I think these guys would’be had it worked out, but we don’t – but a lot of guys are the same way.”