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Auto Racing

Rudd Still Going, But Not For Long

The Tampa Tribune Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 26, 2013 at 07:03 PM

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Terry Bradshaw, Jack Youngblood, Drew Pearson, O.J. Simpson.

They were among the top players in the NFL when Ricky Rudd made his debut in NASCAR's top series in 1975.

Rudd, who announced before last week's race at Michigan that this will be his last full-time season, makes his 900th Winston/Nextel Cup start this weekend at California Speedway.

The only other driver to reach that plateau is Richard Petty, who spent part of his career racing when NASCAR ran 50 to 60 races a year. Petty holds the record for starts with 1,185.

'I'm at a point in my life when I am not willing to sacrifice time away from home and my family,' Rudd said. 'Maybe it looks glamorous from the outside, but it can get pretty boring hanging around, sitting in the motor home.

'You can't leave the track because you can't hardly fight these traffic jams in and out. So you start weighing the plusses and minuses, plus we haven't been very competitive. When you're competitive, it's sort of a fix for some of the negatives.'

Rudd, who turns 51 on Sept. 12, ran his first race at now-retired North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. He got his first win in 1977 at Riverside driving for Richard Childress, and from 1983-98 he won at least one race each year.

He holds the record for consecutive starts - 788, from 1991-2005. His biggest victory came in the 1997 Brickyard 400, and his highest finish in the points was second to Dale Earnhardt in 1991.

Rudd flirted with ending his career after the 2005 season, although he refused to say he was retired after stepping out of the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford. He took last season off, but came back this year to drive the full schedule for one of his former teams, Robert Yates Racing.

Despite a promising start - he qualified second for the Daytona 500, next to teammate David Gilliland - Rudd has managed only one top-10 finish in the No. 88 Ford. Gilliland also has struggled.

Rudd said he believes the recent partnership Yates formed with Champ Car's Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will yield results after he's gone.

'You get not only the engineer support from one of the most technical teams in racing, but you're also getting cash that's going to come with it,' he said.

Citing the rigorous schedule and sacrifices, Rudd says he doubts many of today's younger drivers will stay in racing as long as he has.

'I don't think you'll see any 50-year-olds out here in the near future,' he said. 'I think you'll see guys come in at 18 and probably leave when they're in their mid-30s. Then they'll still have a chance to have a family life after that.'

ALMIROLA'S SECOND: After a rocky debut in Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s No. 01 Chevy last week at Bristol, Tampa's Aric Almirola will run his second race in the car this weekend at California. He should have a decent car. Mark Martin drove the No. 01 Chevy to a fifth-place finish at California in February.

Almirola finished 36th in the Sharpie 500, but he got only 10 minutes of practice because of a shifting mistake that caused an engine failure.

'We didn't get much time to work on the setup at Bristol,' Almirola said. 'We basically went into the race cold, but we fought to the end. I have a good feeling that California is going to be different.'

SMITH DEAL: Regan Smith, the rookie who became the odd man out when Ginn Racing was absorbed by DEI last month, apparently is back in for 2008.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Smith has verbally agreed to a contract with DEI and is expected to drive the No. 01 Chevy next year. Martin and Almirola are expected to move to the No. 8 Chevy to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is moving to Hendrick Motorsports.

Tony Fabrizio

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