Friday, August 04, 2000

Brickyard 400 notebook

Rudd thrives with Yates

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Ricky Rudd won the pole but lost the news conference.

        Rudd, the 1997 Brickyard 400 champion, was dwarfed by the feel-good run of Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip will start alongside Rudd on the outside pole, but Waltrip stole the show Thursday because:

        • It was his best day of a miserable final NASCAR season.

        • He is one of the best “quotes” in the NASCAR garage.;

        • Rudd's pole was not a surprise; it was his second of the year.

        Rudd, 43, has a large and loyal fan base, having won 20 career victories. His career has been rejuvenated in 2000 in Robert Yates' prestigious No.28 Texaco Havoline Ford, whose drivers have included the late Davey Allison, Dale Jarrett and Ernie Irvan.

        Rudd had struggled the past few years as owner of his own team. He also lost his major sponsor, Tide, after 1999.

        Rudd is 10th in season points, after sinking to a career-low 31st last year.

        “I think the credit this team deserves has been skipped over a little bit,” he said. “This is pretty much a new deal; you've got a lot of new people on the team.”

        Rudd's winless 1999 marked the first time in 17 years that he didn't win at least one race.

        LABONTE LURKS: Bobby Labonte, the season points leader, will start No.3 Saturday. Some believe this is his year to win the Brickyard.

        Labonte finished second in last year's Brickyard, third in 1998, and second in 1997.

        “Maybe this is a good omen,” he said. “This is the best we've qualified here.”

        STAT OF THE DAY: None of the six previous Brickyard 400 races have been won from the pole. But, four have been won from a top 10 position.

        NEW RULES: The fatal crashes of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin have led NASCAR to take some action.

        The sanctioning body told its Winston Cup teams to install a stop on the car's throttle assembly and an on-off switch on the steering wheel, within reach of the driver's thumb. The idea is to help drivers avoid “sticking throttles” that can cause serious wrecks.

        The new rules took effect with the opening of Brickyard practice Thursday.

        Petty was killed May 12 and Irwin died July 7 at New Hampshire International Speedway, with both wrecks at nearly the same spot on the track. Speculation was that a “stuck throttle” may have been involved in both accidents, but NASCAR director of operations Kevin Triplett said investigators are still seeking causes.

        Triplett said the new rules are at least a step in the right direction.

        “These were the two areas that could be done, and easily done, before this weekend,” Triplett said.

        The only accident Thursday was a mild one, with Geoffrey Bodine tapping the wall in Turn Four. Bodine was not injured.

        PRUETT'S RETURN: Scott Pruett is racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since crashing in the 1995 Indy 500.

        “More than anything, it's great to be back,” said Pruett, who qualified his Tide car 11th Thursday. “It was heartbreaking being here in '95, coming close to winning and never coming back.”

        Pruett, 40, led eight laps in 1995 before crashing with 15 laps to go en route to a 19th-place finish.

        IROC FINALE: The International Race of Champions ends today with NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, and IRL driver Eddie Cheever Jr. fighting for the season title.

        Earnhardt, the three-race leader with 57 points, will start last in the 12-car, 100-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Martin, the 1998 and 1999 IROC winner at Indy, is second with 45 points, followed by Stewart and Labonte at 43.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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