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Party Fight Could Seal Rudd Fate

July 19, 2002

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) _ The ongoing saga over Ricky Rudd’s future took a bizarre twist Friday, when his car owner revealed that the driver and his crew chief are embroiled in an argument over Rudd’s absence from a team victory party.

Robert Yates likened the disagreement between Rudd and Michael ``Fatback″ McSwain to a fight between young children.

``I watched two- and four-year-olds have little fist-fights and that’s probably the way I rate this one _ something that was not about their job, something off to the side,″ Yates said. ``It’s pretty ridiculous, but in their mind it may be larger than life.″

Yates was initially reluctant to discuss the disagreement, but as word of it spread around New Hampshire International Speedway on Friday, he admitted the tension existed over a party McSwain held to celebrate Rudd’s win last month at Sears Point Raceway.

The party was held at McSwain’s house during the off-week, when Rudd and his family were on vacation. When the series resumed at Daytona two weeks ago, the two argued in their hauler.

``Ricky was invited but he wasn’t there and they shouldn’t have had it, I guess,″ Yates said. ``It was a `Why did you have it without me’ kind of thing. There was a lot of foolishness.″

McSwain confirmed the two had argued.

``Calling it a `fight’ is too strong of a word,″ he said. ``But yeah, I had a party and Ricky wasn’t there and he’s mad about it.″

Rudd, whose young son was hospitalized with complications following surgery to have his tonsils out, wanted only to discuss his qualifying effort. He starts eighth in Sunday’s race.

``I’m just trying to get everybody on the same page so instead of you guys having to go to me and then to him, let’s get everybody together,″ was all he said about his situation.

Turmoil on teams is certainly not uncommon, but in this case it could play into Rudd’s looming career decisions.

The 45-year-old driver is at the end of this contract with Yates and isn’t sure how long he wants to continue racing. He has three options _ retire at the end of this year, return to the No. 28 Ford, or leave and drive for another team.

While testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this week, both Rudd and Yates said chances were slim for the driver’s return next season.

Yates indicated it was a money issue, that he didn’t have enough resources to offer Rudd the best deal. But Rudd said it wasn’t about salary, and his only insistence was that he have certain personnel stay with the team.

Rudd said he wanted the team to remain intact, and that wasn’t possible because McSwain would not be back.

Most people assumed Rudd was speculating that Yates would break his team apart to help start a third team at Robert Yates Racing next year and that McSwain would be the crew chief of the new operation.

But Yates reiterated Friday he has no desire to own three teams _ although he said his son, Doug, could soon be fielding his own Winston Cup car.

Either way, the latest twist between Rudd and McSwain is just another sign that Rudd’s days are numbered in the Yates car.

``Here I am trying to talk about a future and what we’re doing and they’re playing a 2-year-old deal,″ Yates said. ``They could get this behind them so quick, I would think, but if they can’t bury those kind of grudges, it would be hard to live in this business.″

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