INDIANAPOLIS - Ricky Rudd's future in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, a seemingly endless soap opera that might be christened, As The World Turns Left, may have finally run its course.
Rudd's ill-fated romance with Robert Yates Racing hit the wall again yesterday, only harder, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before practice started for today's qualifying attempts and tomorrow's Brickyard 400.
The rumors that Rudd would, a) retire from racing; b) seek another ride; c) stay with Yates, d) keep all of his options open, remain unrestricted.
But Rudd may have totally eliminated “c” in case anyone thought there was a chance his pending divorce from the Yates team was avoidable.
Asked if he has gotten any explanation as to why Yates is reorganizing his race team, Rudd said, “It doesn't make sense to me but, again, it's out of my control. I don't have any say-so over it.
“The thing that I've gotten tired of reading is all of the distractive bullcrap that's been said about this race team - that he's destroying this race team.
“All Robert has to do is keep his mouth shut and let us go out there and run this race team the rest of the year and try to win him a championship. But all of this stuff about distraction - the crew chief [Michael McSwain] fight with the driver - it's all nonsense. It's all nonsense to take the heat off him [Yates].”
It's been reported that Rudd, currently sixth in the Winston Cup point standings, will soon join the Chip Ganassi team. It's rumored that Ganassi is ready to release driver Jimmy Spencer and put Rudd with points-leader Sterling Marlin rather than add a third team.
“It's not a done deal,” Rudd said. “I know there have been some conversations trying to get the details worked out, but it may or may not happen.”
Rudd said being retained by Yates when his contract expires at the end of the season has not been an option since last May.
“As much as I was trying to hold onto the fact, seeing how the pieces of the puzzle are coming together now, I don't think that was ever an option for me,” Rudd said. “I'm having to look at the best opportunity I can go to with the best team situation I can go to so we can hopefully come out of the box [next season] and be competitive right away.”
Ganassi was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.
Yates attempted to throw the ball back into Rudd's court to some extent, saying, “I don't want to be the bad guy. Nothing is definite and there's nothing to talk about. A lot of it isn't my decision. We just want to choose up sides and go racing.
“Neither one of us is a bad guy. If you read everything that has been written, maybe I should have shut up.”
Rudd, 45, joined the Yates team, which includes Dale Jarrett, in 2000. He finished fifth in the Winston Cup point standings. Last year he won two races and was fourth in the final point standings. He won the Brickyard 400 in 1997 as owner of his own team.
Rudd maintains that he's already been replaced on the Yates team by Elliott Sadler, possibly last May.
“It would have been nice to have had a clear-cut understanding or explanation of what his [Yates'] intentions were, but I'm hearing sort of a series of half-truths from Robert and I'm having to really piece this together from the media pieces that I've been reading about in regard to what's going on,” Rudd said.
“I felt like at least I should have had an off-the-record explanation of why he is destroying this team. Again, I think he wanted to make it look like I was going to walk and I was going to leave. I held in there until the last possible time I could and it's pretty obvious now that Yates Racing will only consist of two teams next year.”
Rudd, with 22 career Winston Cup victories in 26 seasons, said retirement remains an option if he can't find a team that can be a title contender next season.
“The trouble with me is that I've got to go with a team than can come out of the box right away,” he said. “I don't have three years. If it's going to be a two or three-year buildup process, even though everybody means well, I don't have two or three years left in me to get it to that point and then step aside and give it to somebody else.”
Tune in tomorrow for what could be the exciting conclusion of, As Ricky's World Turns Left.