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Inspired By NASCAR Ranking, Rudd Hopes To Break New Ground At Daytona

Posted February 12, 2003

— Ricky Rudd will compete in Sunday's Daytona 500 in a new car, with a new team, ready to break new ground in a new season.

But he's still the same driver he's always been, a driver for whom success and competition have become old hat.

Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Taurus, has set many records of longevity and consistency since his Winston Cup Racing debut in 1976. When he takes the green flag Sunday, he'lll make his 26th start in the Great American Race and 53rd start in a Winston Cup points race at the historic Daytona International Speedway.

Rudd leads all active drivers in Daytona starts. He ranks ninth on the list of all competitors in Daytona starts. - behind Richard Petty, Dave Marcis, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt and David Pearson.

Furthermore, with 19 career top-10 finishes in the points standings, Rudd ranks third among NASCAR's all-time top-10 finishers.

The top-10 list, released by NASCAR Tuesday, lists Rudd behind Petty (with 25 top-10 points finishes) and Earnhardt (20). Following Rudd are Waltrip and Allison (18), Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace (16), Bill Elliott and Mark Martin (13) and Lee Petty (12).

"I guess I'm real proud of the fact that we've been consistent," Rudd said, "not only consistent, but up in the top-10 quite a bit in the points. I take a little pride in that when I realize that there are only two guys ahead of me, that have a better average finish in the Winston Cup points over the years. It's pretty good company.

"My strategy has always been pretty simple. My No. 1 goal is to go out and win the race. When you don't win, you get the next best finish you can. That becomes your priority.

"If you know you can't win," Rudd said, "then you go after that second-place spot. You go after third. You try to be there at the end and keep the fenders on it so you can make a run at the end of the race.

"Again, remember the big picture, and that is the checkered flag. You know you can't win if you've got all the fenders knocked off of it. You try to be there at the end and shoot for higher and take what you can get."

Rudd never has won the Daytona 500 or the points championship. He's ready to do both this season, though he admitted he's not comfortable in restrictor-plate races like Sunday's.

"I don't mean that in a negative way, but you don't have total control," Rudd said. "It's not that it's not good racing, but I don't feel like I have control of the car like I do when I go to any other race track.

"When I say control, you have to get off the gas pedal and get on the gas pedal at the right time. Here, you've just got to put the throttle down and go and hold it wide open."

Rudd finished third in his last restrictor-plate race, at Talladega.

"Sometimes, Rudd said, "what happens to you is not necessarily dictated by what you did. It's by what somebody else did. That's restrictor-plate racing, and you learn to deal with it. I think it makes for great racing for the fans.

"In our last restrictor-plate race, we finished third. I don't know how it happened, but we finished third. Hopefully, we learned a little something that will apply to Daytona."

Though he gets asked the question repeatedly - how frustrated is it to not have won the Daytona 500? - Rudd tries to keep his futility here in perspective.

"If you look back through history," he said, "certain drivers have been really good here over the years and won more races than others. But you tend to go back and look at the teams that have been strong here.

"As far as feeling like it owes me something, if seniority or coming here the most has anything to do with it, yeah, I guess you'd feel somewhat cheated. But the way I look at it, none of these race tracks owe any of us anything, so you take what it will give you.

"I'd love to get greedy and win this thing," Rudd said. "But we'll see how it turns out."

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