Rudd's tank of hope full as streak is threatened


When Ricky Rudd started his 16-year winning streak, some of his crewmen were in elementary school.

When Rudd began his streak, the longest by an active Winston Cup driver, his hair was brown, not gray, and his dreams were young.

Now 43, Rudd has just four races left to stretch the streak to 17.

"If we go down to the very last race of the season needing to win to keep it alive, I'll probably be a little anxious, but I won't be down," Rudd said. "I'll go into that race as excited as ever, figuring we're going to win it."

He has done it that way before.

In 1985, the third year of the streak, he won in Riverside, Calif., in the final race of the season. Ten years later, in the 13th year of the streak, he waited until the next-to-last race of the year, in Phoenix, to win.

So, Rudd isn't worried yet.

"We might be on the verge of folding our tents, but this is still a great group of people and a really talented group of people," said Rudd, who will close his own team and drive for Robert Yates next season. "They honestly feel they can win."

Their best chances may come at Rockingham, N.C., today or in Phoenix next week. But Rudd isn't counting himself out anywhere.

"Every race, I'm wondering, 'When are we going to win?' " said Rudd, who finished third last week in Talladega, Ala. "Even if I didn't think we had a chance to win -- and I don't think that -- but even if I felt that way, I wouldn't be brave enough to tell my team. They'd move me out of the way and do everything they could to win.

"If we can keep this streak going, it will mean I've won a race every year that I've owned my own team. From beginning to end. There's not many owners who can make that claim. But it's important to the guys, too. They don't want to be the ones to see it end. If it's going to stop, they're going to make sure it stops on somebody else's watch or because I retire. It's not going to stop because we couldn't win."

Rudd is getting help in his pursuit of victory. The Yates team has pitched in with engines and helping to set up the car.

Rudd said he believes he'll have his victory before his team gets to Atlanta on Nov. 21.

Not yet absorbed

Indy Racing League driver Greg Ray won his first IRL championship last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and he said this week that it's still sinking in.

"I haven't had time to celebrate with my family or even my team yet," Ray said. "By the time I was finished with all the post-race things I had to do, the team was gone."

It was after midnight when Ray, a Texas native who lives in Plano, not far from Fort Worth, headed home. He said he was going with the traffic flow and didn't think he was speeding. But a policeman pulled him over, lights flashing.

"He pulled me over and asked if I was in a hurry," Ray said. "I said I was just tired and wanted to get home. I gave him my license. He asked what I did, and I said, 'I race cars.' He raised his eyebrows and asked what kind.

"I said, 'Indy cars.' The newspaper was on the seat beside me, and I showed him a picture of me, one of those things they hand out for autographs with your biographical stuff on the back. He looked at it, but neither of us made a commotion out of it."

The policeman handed Ray his ticket.

But on that night, nothing could deflate Ray.

"Anytime you accomplish a goal or dreams come true like this, it takes a while to sink in," he said. "I'm old enough to know that things like this don't come along very often."

Especially not to people like Ray. Ten years ago, he hadn't even been in a race car or to a driving school. But today, at age 33, he's the IRL champ.

Another race to wire

Just like the IRL series last weekend, the CART series points race will be decided in the season finale.

Dario Franchitti's third victory of the year last Sunday gave him a nine-point lead over rookie Juan Montoya, who has won a series-high seven races. The final race will be the Marlboro 500 next Sunday at California Speedway.

Nuts and bolts

A.J. Foyt is preparing his son, Larry, to drive one of his IRL cars next season. "He graduates in May and gets his college degree," Foyt said. "And, yeah, we'll be testing him quite a bit this winter. If everything looks good, we'll run him."

The first NASCAR points race to be contested outside the United States will come in mid-November at the Twin Ring Motegi super-speedway in Japan and will decide the Winston West Series championship. Just 165 points separate the Top 10 drivers in the series.

Perhaps it's a sign of the impact the split in open-wheel racing is having. The promoters of the proposed Hawaiian Super Prix, intended to be the richest auto race in history with a $10 million purse, couldn't raise enough money. They came up $5 million short.

IRL rookie Scott Harrington outpointed Robby McGehee, 165-156, to win one of the closest rookie-of-the-year races in motor-sports history. Sarah Fisher, 19, and only the fifth woman to qualify for an Indy-car race, started 17th in Texas last Sunday, but dropped out after 66 laps because of a broken timing chain. Fisher plans to enroll at Ohio State in January and race full-time in the IRL next year.

Charlotte Observer motor-sports columnist David Poole writes that NBA fans and Winston Cup fans have something in common. Some NBA fans grew weary of the Chicago Bulls' winning championships and seeing Michael Jeffrey Jordan making buzzer-beating baskets when everybody in America knew he'd be the one taking the final shot.

It's the same for Winston Cup fans who get tired of seeing Jeffrey Michael Gordon come out of seemingly nowhere to win more than his share of races.

"If you look at those great teams, one thing they have is that they believe in one another and they work together to make it happen," said Gordon, who has a similar setup on his team.

"I don't think there's any one individual who really makes it happen."

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