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The Callahan Report: Rudd holds off Gordon for win at Pocono

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
June 17, 2001

Ricky Rudd
LONG POND, PA: A week ago, Ricky Rudd passed Jeff Gordon as the two NASCAR Winston Cup stars headed towards the white flag at Michigan International Speedway. Gordon passed him back on the final lap for his second win in a row. The move fueled Ricky Rudd's determination. Rudd took the lead with 24 laps remaining in the Pocono 500 Sunday. He held the lead all the way to the checkered flag.

Rudd stayed with his pre race strategy to win the Pocono 500.

"Here, you've got to be careful not to use your equipment up the first part of the race," Rudd said after qualifying. "This race track is very hard on engines. The driver can do things like make that shift or don't shift and ring the motor out every lap. Short-shift and take care of the motor so you don't turn a lot of RPM. Take care of your equipment and be in the hunt when it comes time for the final stop of the day."

After a long dry spell, Rudd visited victory lane for the first time since selling his own Winston Cup team. Rudd sold his team at the conclusion of the 1999 racing season to join forces with Robert Yates Racing. Despite many high finishes, winning results took longer than expected for Rudd and Yates. Rudd made it known that he was capable of winning when he gave three-time champion Gordon all he could handle at Michigan last weekend.

The floodgates may have been opened Sunday. Rudd has a lot of catching up to do. Rudd won at least once a year for sixteen years before hitting his dry spell last season. He is a proven winner.

Part of the reason Rudd was hired to drive for Robert Yates was because he is an "adaptable" driver. Rudd has been a winner in "less than competitive" equipment. He was won with a variety of owners and teams. Yates is the sixth car owner to be honored with Rudd's winning talents. Only retired veteran Bobby Allison has won for more owners than Rudd (seven).

While Rudd has won 21 races in his long career, none of those wins were attained at Pocono until Sunday. Rudd had made 44 starts at the tough tri-oval in the Pennsylvania ski country. This time, Rudd started from the pole position. He was the top driver all weekend, beating the competition by two miles per hour in qualifying. Rudd also lead the practice sessions all weekend.

Rudd was favored to win when the green flag dropped to start the race. His favored status began to be in question immediately. Rudd began dropping through the field at the start of the race. The hard work of his crew with fast pit stop and adjustments gave Rudd the edge he needed to win. He beat Gordon to the finish line by more than a second…a mile by NASCAR standards.

There was parity among the top five finishers. Rudd drove a Ford Taurus to victory lane. Gordon drives a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Rudd's teammate, Dale Jarrett finished in third place, also in a Ford. Sterling Marlin gave the new Dodge team another top five finish in his Intrepid (fourth). Mark Martin, another Ford driver, crossed the finish line in fifth place.

Despite being winless for the past two seasons until Sunday, Rudd continues to hold third place in the season point standings. Rudd is 130 points behind Jeff Gordon, the points leader. Dale Jarrett remains in second place in the standings.

Jeff Gordon was trying to win his third race in-a-row at Pocono Sunday. He looked as though he was going to pull off the hat trick at the mid point of the race. Gordon and Jarrett swapped the lead five times in five laps. When Gordon finally was able to get in front of Jarrett, he pulled away. A caution flag on the 121st lap stopped his progress. The field bunched up and Gordon ended up behind Jarrett after that round of pit stops. Little did they know that Rudd's crew had made the final magic tweak to bring him back into contention. Gordon was still pleased with the efforts of his team as he shoots for his fourth championship.

"Honestly the most important thing to me is having (a streak of) just really strong runs and finishes," Gordon said. "To come home second today - I think we led the most laps - is the kind of effort I'm looking for in our team. And if that effort gets you to Victory Lane, you did everything you wanted to do."

The final passing flurry came on lap 177 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was ahead of the pack but nearly a lap behind the field. Jarrett was leading and Rudd was in second place. Gordon had joined the challenge.

Jarrett made a move around Earnhardt Jr., but went high in the process. Rudd screamed by both drivers. Gordon was able to move around Earnhardt, but was stuck behind Jarrett until the 194th lap. When Gordon finally made his pass on Jarrett, it was too late. Gordon closed on Rudd, but there was too little time for Gordon to chase down the strong Yates horsepower under Rudd's hood.

"I think that cost Dale Jarrett the race," Gordon said of his respected fellow competitor. "I do believe that. I think had Jr. not been there, Dale Jarrett would have gotten in that clean air and taken off and pulled away. Jr. put up a heck of a fight."

Rudd averaged 134.389 mph. The race was slowed seven times for 36 laps under the caution flag. Five drivers swapped the lead 13 times during the race. Rudd took the biggest share of the $3.2 million dollar purse.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series goes "road racing' next week at Sears Point in California.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.