In today’s day and age I know full well that if one is to in any way speak even the least bit negatively about someone, or not speak completely positive, they’re deemed as simply being a “hater”. So let me get this out of the way, I do not hate Ricky Rudd. At all. In fact, I’ve always kinda liked Rudd. As a kid, and still as an adult, I liked the Quaker State car he drove. I liked how he raced Dale Earnhardt at North Wilkesboro in 1989, and then Davey Allison at Sears Point in 1991. I liked his toughness. I liked that he was never flashy, but was always competitive. I liked the way he drove.
But liking someone doesn’t make them a legend, and it doesn’t make them great, and it doesn’t make them worthy of the Hall of Fame.
And neither does longevity. Yes, to have longevity, typically you have to be good at what you do to keep people wanting to employ you to do it. However, you do not have to be “great” at what you do to have had longevity. Do you know how many backup quarterbacks spend 15 years as such? Not that Rudd is a backup quarterback, but he’s not a Peyton Manning, and really, he might not even be a Matt Ryan.
Ricky Rudd competed for the season long points championship 25 times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. He finished higher than 4th one time.
In 1991 Rudd managed to finish 2nd in Winston Cup points to Dale Earnhardt, and it was the only time Rudd ever really sniffed a championship. Rudd found himself just 59 points behind Earnhardt with five races to go. Rudd wouldn’t finish in the top ten again and barely clung to second in points at season’s end.
He was engaged in a season long points battle in 2001 with Jeff Gordon, but just like 10 years prior, he faltered down the stretch and this time he failed to finish in the top three. After a third place at Kansas saw Rudd sit in second in points, 222 points out of first with eight races remaining, Rudd went on to finish outside of the top 20 in five of the final eight events of the season and plummet to fourth in points.
The most important criteria for greatness in a NASCAR driver’s career is the championship. No career is complete without one. Ask Mark Martin. But at least Martin had several bridesmaid seasons, and turned in seasons that were championship worthy. The same cannot be said of Rudd.
So the next place you look is total wins, right? I’m sorry, 23 wins in 32 years is not impressive. Yes, the consistency and the streak of winning at least one race every year for 16 straight seasons is impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? Putting more than one or two wins together in a season. Ricky Rudd never won more than twice in any given season.
His career wins total of 23 ranks him 33rd all-time, but as I get into later, the wins are rather empty, void of many signature wins in big races, and as mentioned before, they aren’t accompanied by a championship, or even being a regular contender for win.
It should also be noteworthy that there is a plethora of active drivers within 2-5 wins of Rudd, including Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Brad Keselowski. All four have either won multiple major races, accompanied Rudd as having finished runner-up in points, won the Daytona 500, or won a championship. And all four still have the ability to add to their resumes. Of the lot, only Keselowski looks like he may one day have a case to be in the Hall of Fame, but this is precisely the lot of drivers Rudd belongs to. Good, not great.
And you have to keep in mind that a guy like Joey Logano is just getting started, another season like he had in 2015 and he’ll be right there with Rudd in wins, and may very well have himself a championship as well. Plus you have to consider all the young talent coming up and what they will likely accomplish in their careers. Are we really going to put a 23 win Ricky Rudd in the Hall of Fame?
In fact, if you look at the current field of Sprint Cup drivers, Rudd’s career accomplishments rank him somewhere in the 10-15 realm, at best. Again, that’s not bad, and nothing to hang his head about, but when you can easily point out 10 drivers (Johnson, Stewart, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Edwards, Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr, Kenseth) currently who are more deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, it’s pretty much impossible to make a case that throughout all of NASCAR history, Rudd’s career will stand up to the test of time and deserves to be memorialized and remembered as one of the greatest of all time.
I’m sorry, this is not greatness. It’s consistent. It’s solid. It’s a career to be proud of. But you can’t consider someone a hall of famer if they never won more than two races in a season and only once finished higher than 4th in points.
When it comes to top five finishes, his high for a single season was 14. Only once did he get at least 20 top ten finishes. These are things the great drivers do with regularity. Rudd not only didn’t do it with regularity, he didn’t do it at all.
Another startling number is the number of times Rudd failed to finish a race. While he’s lauded for his consistency, which is accurate, Rudd also had a difficult time finishing a lot of races. Granted, a large portion of that came from the two years he spent with Kenny Bernstein in the Quaker State Buick, as Rudd amassed 12 DNFs in those two years, including an incredible dozen of them in 1988. Even still, failing to finish 189 races is a big deal. He failed to finish one in every five events he started with a DNF percentage of close to 21. By comparison, Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, the same era, had DNF percentages of 14.
Do I need to continue making the case?
For some, they may not have had the championships, or even the total wins, but the races they won were the ones that mattered. There will always be something to be said about coming up big on the sports biggest stages, and too often Rudd failed to do so.
Aside from the Brickyard 400 that he won in 1997, Rudd was rarely a factor in the sports biggest races. Rudd made 60 starts at Daytona, and led a total of 45 laps, finishing in the top 5 only 7 times. Twenty-nine times Rudd started a Daytona 500, and he was running in the top 5 at the conclusion on just four of those occasions. All told, in nearly 30 starts in the Daytona 500, Rudd only led a total of 13 laps.
His numbers at Charlotte aren’t much better. Over 60 starts were made at the speedway, and less than 10 of those resulted in a top 5 finish. In the Coke 600, another one of NASCAR’s crown jewels, Rudd managed to finish in the top five just three times. Even more astonishing is that in 30 plus years of racing, Rudd only led 99 laps in the event. For his career, Rudd only led 1.5% of the laps he completed at Charlotte.
His numbers at Darlington are a little better, aided by winning the spring race there in 1991. But when it came to the real prize, the Southern 500, Rudd again fell short, way short, time and time again. Only four times did Rudd ever finish the grueling Southern 500 in the top five.
The sport’s three biggest races, and in a 30 year career, Rudd only managed to finish in the top five 11 times on the big stage with just one victory. I’m sorry, that’s not hall of fame stuff.
The hall of fame is for those who were the best of the best, the elite. Ricky Rudd, at no point in his career was ever that driver. He had a very good career, but don’t cheapen the Hall of Fame by inviting just anyone who had a solid career and won a few races. Because if you let Ricky Rudd, then you open the door to let way too many people who don’t deserve to have their name mentioned with the true greats of the sport. A hall of fame should be selective. Letting Ricky Rudd in would prove that this one is not.