BROOKLYN, Mich. - Ricky Rudd had been the runner-up in the past two races at Michigan International Speedway. He had finished second to Rusty Wallace in the Pepsi 400 last year and second to Jeff Gordon at the Kmart 400 in June.
Rudd also entered yesterday's race second to Gordon in the NASCAR Winston Cup points race. And Rudd was making his 50th start at MIS, where he had one win and eight top-5 finishes.
Rudd led yesterday's race three times, for a total of 51 laps, before a blown engine knocked him out on lap 121.
He finished next-to-last in 42nd place.
“It was on six cylinders and there was no sign of smoke and all the gauges looked good,'' he said. “We thought we were going to be able to ride it out. We didn't expect the engine to go blow up like it did. I guess it burned a hole in the piston.''
Rudd remained in second place in the points race, but now trails Gordon - who finished seventh - by 298 points.
Rudd has managed just one top-5 finish in the past four races.
“There's not a whole lot you can do but worry about it,'' Rudd said, when asked about the points race. “It's good that we had a really fast car today, but unfortunately, we haven't been able to make it to the end, with the exception of Pocono, when we had a really good race car.''
JUNIOR WEARS DEVICE: Dale Earnhardt Jr., taking the advice of some of his NASCAR compatriots, yesterday wore the Hutchens restraining device for the first time this season.
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. last February in the Daytona 500, many drivers have started wearing different types of head and neck restraining apparatus. The most popular is the Head and Neck Support (HANS) Device, which is mandatory in Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) races on oval tracks.
Young Earnhardt also wears the same style of open-face helmet that his father wore.
“It's hard to say where his thinking is at,” Dale Jarrett said. “You get accustomed to something, and it's hard to make a change sometimes. But I can say that there's a couple of people who have made suggestions to him because we care about him.
“You can look around and there's two guys right now who drive this sport and drive those fans right up there (pointing to the grandstands) crazy, and that's Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. We need those two guys around here.
“I know that Jeff uses the HANS Device, and I've told Dale Jr. that I'd really like to see him wear one, too.”
The only two drivers who didn't wear any type of head and neck restraining devices yesterday were Tony Stewart and Jimmy Spencer.
CASEY CRUISES: Casey Atwood (10th place) was the highest finishing rookie driver for the fourth time this season.
“I'm pleased, but I'm disappointed, too,'' Atwood said.
“We had a top-5 car all day long. That last restart killed us. I got caught in behind some lapped cars and got passed. I didn't have enough time to make it up. I think I could have if the race had gone the distance.''
DODGE ENTHUSED: Following Dodge's first victory in 24 years on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit yesterday and its 161st overall, Dieter Zetsche, president and CEO of Daimler-Chrysler said, “We saw history today. This whole thing only could happen with the teams working together, all of them.
“This is like a huge boost for us. We're now having the momentum to be totally successful with our brand and our company all together.”
Dodge announced its return to NASCAR Winston Cup racing in October of 1999 after a 16-year absence. In 27 years, prior to Marlin's victory, Dodge drivers totaled 160 wins, 168 poles, two manufacturers titles and five Winston Cup championships.
“We go after that second victory now, and we've got a lot of work to do,” said Bob Wildberger, senior manager for Dodge NASCAR operations. “These wins do not come easy. It's our first one, and the second one won't come easy. What a great time for our first one. We had our dealers here today. We had the president of our company. We had a great number of our employees and the engineering staff. It's hometown, backyard, our first win.”
NOTABLES: Chevrolet failed to lead a lap for the first time this season. ... Bill Elliott has three top-10 finishes in his last four races at MIS. He was third yesterday. ... Jeff Gordon, who was seventh, scored his 16th top-10 finish in 23 races. ... Terry Labonte, who finished 29th, remains the only Winston Cup driver who has yet to lead a lap this season. The last time Labonte led a race was in October of last year. He led only 34 of 10,167 laps he raced a year ago.