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Publication: NASCAR News
Rudd has strong return

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         NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, October 18, 2007
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Open-wheel drivers face same challenges as Mario
'If you earn your respect ... you'll be respected back'
By Megan Englehart, SPEED

When reigning Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champion 
Dario Franchitti attempts to qualify for the Craftsman 
Truck Series event at Martinsville (3 p.m. ET Saturday, 
SPEED), he joins a pack of open-wheel standouts already 
paving the path to stock cars. 

Franchitti is preceded in his jump to NASCAR by former open 
wheelers Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Montoya, Scott Speed and 
Sam Hornish Jr., among others. A variety of opinions exist 
as to why these men are making the move.  

"From where I'm sitting, it is probably because of the 
money [in NASCAR]," said Mario Andretti, a multi-series 
champion who crossed over to NASCAR and won the 1967 
Daytona 500. 

"Every individual would give you a different reason. I 
think the strongest one might be financial. It's not the 
only motivating factor but it is a strong one. And right 
now, the best chance to earn some money is NASCAR." 

Others appear a bit stumped as to why these drivers, all 
of whom have won championships in their respective series, 
would venture into the vastly different world of NASCAR. 

"This makes no sense," SPEED reporter Robin Miller said. 
"Neither Franchitti nor Jacques Villeneuve need the money. 
Jacques was making $20 million a year driving Formula One. 
These guys have already made it financially and have won 
major championships, so maybe they look at this as their 
401k years." 

Despite the varying opinions as to the motivation behind 
the open wheelers' departure to NASCAR, most agree that 
if open wheel racing currently was a healthier series, 
this trend would not be in effect. 

continued below... 

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"Looking at certain drivers who have pretty much been open 
wheel the majority of their career, if open wheel was what 
it should be, I don't think they'd even be thinking of 
leaving," Andretti said. 

"Open-wheel racing is such a dead industry now," Miller 
lamented. "It's so hard to get money and there's so little 
sponsorship. Right now, Champ Car and the IRL have only 
limited seats in which drivers can make a decent living. 
Open wheel racing hasn't provided a platform for these guys 
to succeed, especially these young kids. 

"When I go to the sprint car races, all these kids are 
talking about the NASCAR development deals," he continued. 
"They're not even looking at the Indy 500 because they know 
it's a dead end and they have no chance unless they have 
$4 or $5 million to bring to the table. Again, NASCAR wins 
because it has a viable ladder system in place that is 
supportive and you can be taken right to the top. You just 
have to bring your helmet and your talent and that's the 
way racing is supposed to be." 

Despite all the talent and accolades these drivers hold, 
anytime the new kid on the block comes knocking on the 
door, he usually has to prove himself first. 

"I thought it might be hard to be accepted [in NASCAR] but 
it really wasn't because across the board, the racing 
community has camaraderie," Andretti said. "Among the 
drivers, I never felt like I was out of place or not 
accepted. If you earn your respect and you don't do stupid 
things, and you show that you have respect for them and you 
do well, you'll be respected back. 

"These guys are well-established in their field and the 
drivers know the quality of driver they're dealing with," 
Andretti continued. "These guys are not fools - they're not 
going to do stupid things. There was a lot of speculation 
about Juan Montoya at first and all that was dispelled 
pretty quickly and I think it's going to be the same with 
these guys. If you're going to make the move and make the 
commitment, you've got to deal with all these elements." 

Being welcomed by the NASCAR fans might prove a more 
challenging order, though. 

"It [acceptance] is more of a fan situation because I'm 
beginning to think NASCAR is purely an American sport," 
Andretti said. 

"But that's why it works - Americans want to cheer for 
Americans," Miller said. "When CART was in its heyday in 
the early and mid-90s and had Nigel Mansell and Emerson 
Fittipaldi, they were great world-class drivers, but there 
were still Americans like Robby Gordon, Scott Pruett, 
Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Danny Sullivan and Al 
Unser Jr. It was a great melting pot of talent. The people 
that went to the CART races loved the fact that there were 
great foreign drivers there but you're talking about a 
whole different animal in NASCAR." 

Even if every NASCAR fan in America embraces this rush of 
foreign and open wheel drivers, the welcome mat will not 
teach these newcomers the idiosyncrasies of driving a stock 
car. Patience and learning to finesse the heavy machines 
are two of the toughest lessons to master. 

continued below... 

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"When Paul Tracy drove the Busch races last year, he said 
it's different because you can't be that aggressive and 
you have to be patient," Miller said. "NASCAR races are 
not one-and-a-half or two-hour races like these open wheel 
guys are used to. You can't go for the throat and run as 
hard as you can the whole race. 

"These guys have to focus on conserving tires, staying 
awake, making 9,000 pit stops and trying not to crash. 
Franchitti is a very patient guy and it might play to his 
strengths because he's got 500-mile races to get the car 
dialed in." 

Demanding more from the car than it is capable of giving 
can be one of the pitfalls awaiting these open wheel 
newcomers. 

"From a driver's standpoint, especially a seasoned driver 
like Dario Franchitti, it's probably overdriving the car 
[the toughest thing to learn]," Andretti said. "This is 
one of the first things we talked about when Juan Montoya 
came in. When he figures it out, the better he's going to 
be. There have been times when he's gotten the best of 
himself because an open wheel racer is used to a lot higher 
speed, a lot more cornering force and they have a tendency 
to really barrel in and waste the lap time sliding around. 

"That's what I experienced myself. It's all about contain-
ing yourself and trying to give it [the car] only all it 
will accept." 

A good place to hone these much-needed skills is in the 
Truck Series. 

"I think it's a good place to learn, in the trucks," 
Andretti said. "I think Dario is doing the right thing 
there. What he learns will be very beneficial when he 
gets to the Cup car. Experience is always golden. If I 
were doing it, I would try to run trucks and Busch along 
the way and try to speed up the learning curve." 

With all this new information to keep in mind, what is a 
sufficient amount of time to adjust to this new series 
and race car? 

"It's a learning curve," Miller said. "These guys will 
get enough testing and the right kind of testing. The 
tough thing with Franchitti and Montoya is they will 
look to their teammate to lean on and he's young. They 
don't have someone who's been around 20 years to tell 
them about the tracks, the tires, the gears and the 
strategy. 

"As far as the owners are concerned, even if you've got 
someone to be patient with you -- Sam Hornish does with 
Roger Penske and he's not going to throw Sam out after 
one or two years," Miller continued. "Whereas, will Chip 
Ganassi be patient with Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario 
Franchitti? Don't bet on it." 

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Rudd has strong return as shoulder still tries to mend
Veteran undecided on racing at Martinsville next week
By Ron Lemasters, NASCAR.COM

CONCORD, N.C. - He was sore, and he was working with Cully 
Barraclough for the first time, but Ricky Rudd came home 
with a solid finish in his return from a separated shoulder 
that happened over the Labor Day weekend at California. 

Rudd earned an 11th-place finish in the Bank of America 500 
on Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and it might 
have been even better had it not been for the red flag on 
Lap 324. 

"We ran out of gas when we got the green flag," Rudd said 
after the race. "I stood in the gas and it was buh-buh-buh-
buh-buh. I pulled over to the inside and then it took off 
again." 

Like many other drivers, including winner Jeff Gordon, 
Rudd's car acted as if it was out of gas after sitting in 
Turn 3 for more than 12 minutes during cleanup from Jeff 
Green's blown engine. The car's engine "heat-soaks" the 
components under the hood, and the fuel system is vulner-
able to vapor lock. 

"They were saying, 'There's no problem on fuel; you don't 
need to worry about running on the flat like everybody 
else.' They said we were good on fuel, but we weren't, so 
that's really frustrating," Rudd said. 

"We were seventh and we would have at least been seventh 
or moved to fifth." 

Still, Rudd's 11th-place showing was a good one for Robert 
Yates Racing, which now has five races left before it 
becomes Yates Racing, under the guidance of Robert's son 
Doug. 

It is the second-best result Rudd has had this year; he 
was seventh in the Coca-Cola 600 here in May, and 11th at 
Infineon Raceway in June.

Rudd, who will retire at the end of the season, also has 
five races left in his career, if he is able to race at 
Martinsville next weekend. 

"As far as my shoulder, it's a little sore," Rudd said. "I 
knew it was hurting, but on a scale of 1 to 10 it wasn't 
like something that you couldn't bear it. It was just like 
a bad headache." 

Rudd said he needed some time to figure out if Martinsville 
was a go or not. 

"I'll know more about it when I wake up [Sunday] and go 
back to rehab therapy [on Monday]," he said. "Right now, 
this [Lowe's] is different than Martinsville. I'll have 
to work it a whole lot more. It's gonna have to get in a 
little better shape. I don't want to start Martinsville 
and get out at halfway because you just lose too much time. 

"Right now, I'm probably a little better than 50-50 for 
Martinsville." 

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Copyright 2007 by NextEra Media. All rights reserved.

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