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The Callahan Report: Smart And Consistent, Ricky Rudd Deserves Brickyard Victory

3 August 1997

[ Rudd Feature ]

INDIANAPOLIS: RPM is the acronym for Ricky Rudd's self owned racing team. Today it stands for Rudd's Precise Mileage. Rudd won the 4th annual Brickyard 400 today. He coasted to victory lane.....out of fuel.

Rudd Performance Motorsports (RPM) put its experience to good use to earn this victory. Rudd said going into the race this weekend, "The chassis has to be set up similar to what we use at places like Phoenix and New Hampshire. It's really tough. If you miss it in one of those areas, you can get trapped in traffic and never have a chance. I know, because it happened to us in 95. We were really fast down the straights but had problems getting off the corners, we finished 20th."

[ Ricky Rudd ] Ricky Rudd

Rudd started the race from the seventh spot and never wandered to far from that spot...until it counted. Rudd, a noted master at getting the most out of a tank of gas, was able to stretch his fuel with farther than most with the help of two late race cautions.

Again, Rudd put experience to work. By conserving his fuel, he earned the track position that ultimately won him the race. Even before the green flag fell, Rudd talked about that strategy. "You hear about how important track position is just about every race now but it is really true at Indy. This is a tough place to pass even though there are a lot of places you can make a move. So, I think you have to qualify in the top ten to have a real shot at a win here." Rudd continued, "The field can really get strung out and you can run a lot faster out front versus having to race with a pack of cars."

Rudd held his position quietly throughout the day. He was rarely mentioned as a contender for the lead. He emerged in front of the pack with 15 laps to go. He was as fast as frontrunners Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, and Jeff Burton all day. Rudd showed his speed in those last few laps on two different restarts.

Rudd talked openly about what had to be done to win at Indy. His competitors went with their own plans. Rudd stuck with and executed his plan without error. He was awarded with a well deserved win.

The next closest competitor to Rudd was Bobby Labonte. He drove the race with the same philosophy as Rudd. Labonte brought the Joe Gibbs/Interstate Batteries car home in second place, about a car length behind Rudd.

The race appeared to be in the hands of three or four drivers. Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, and Jeff Burton looked to be the strongest for most of the race. Rudd fuel mileage puzzled Jarrett. "I don't understand when a guy can go 15 miles further than you on a tank of gas. I couldn't have coasted around here and saved that much fuel."

It was a race that was in question until the checkered flag dropped. There were several drivers in position to win. Some were nearly out of fuel. Some were fast with a load of traffic in front of them. One would wonder why they bothered to put seats in this 300,000 seat stadium. No one was using them for much of the race.

The last laps were the most exciting in the brief history of the race. After a late race caution for a crash involving Rich Bickle, the green came out for the last time with three laps to go. The tight pack knew it was time to go. There were sparks, banging, dents and tire squealing. The scoring pylon was a blur with the changing track positions. The stars of NASCAR came five wide down the straights. There are nearly 300,000 seats at the Speedway....none were being used.

When the smoke cleared, Rudd and Labonte were long gone. Jarrett and Gordon advanced to third and fourth. Jeremy Mayfield drove through the traffic jams to finish fifth. Mark Martin drove farther than anyone on the last lap. He was scraping both the outside and inside walls, earning a sixth place finish. Johnny Bensen was running a strong third but was "bumped" back to seventh at the end.

A few years ago, fans in the Indianapolis area laughed at the possibility of watching a NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This evening, they are writing checks for their 1998 Brickyard 400 tickets. It only makes sense, the largest facility in the world should host the fastest growing sport in the world. NASCAR racing is in Indy to stay.

Note: Rich Bickle crashed late in the race. He was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis complaining of back pain. He is awake and alert. There were other crashes involving Derrike Cope, Michael Waltrip, Chad Little, Bill Elliott, and Joe Nemecheck. All those drivers were uninjured.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel