The question is whether NASCAR Hall of Fame voters will elect Ricky Rudd to the 2021 class, or will they go with more contemporary drivers like Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Burton?
Known for his toughness, Rudd literally had tape on his face to open his eyes to race in the 1984 Daytona 500 after being injured in a wild crash the previous week in the Busch Clash. He went on to win the next race at Richmond.
After winning a 1998 race at Martinsville, he lay outside the car exhausted with burns and blisters all over his back.
Rudd started 788 consecutive races, an all-time record that was broken by Jeff Gordon in 2015, and had 906 starts overall, second only to Richard Petty. He excelled at the short tracks of Martinsville and Richmond in his native Virginia, where he won five times, and the road courses, where he had six career victories.
The drawback is 23 Cup Series career wins, which rank behind both Edwards and Earnhardt. However, he ran for his father, Al, and other independent car owners like D.K. Ulrich the first four years of his career.
Rudd took over the No. 88 DiGard ride in 1981 and moved to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet a year later. He picked up his first career win at the Riverside road course in 1983 and added a win at Martinsville later in the season.
He recently talked about his feud with Dale Earnhardt Sr., which started after Rudd told the future seven-time champion about the big plans at Childress. Earnhardt got back with Childress, while Rudd moved to the No. 15 Ford for Bud Moore Racing, in what amounted to a ride swap.
From 1983-98, Rudd won a race for 16 consecutive seasons. He did it back-to-back in 1986-87 with Moore’s team, but didn’t again until he was an owner-driver in 1997.
He enjoyed some success driving the No. 26 Buick for drag racer Kenny Bernstein before joining Hendrick Motorsports in 1990.
Driving the No. 5 Chevrolet, Rudd was the 1991 Cup Series runner-up to Earnhardt. He drove for Hendrick until becoming the last truly successful owner-driver in 1994. Tony Stewart is listed as an owner-driver in his Cup Series championship season of 2011, but he joined a team already established by businessman Gene Haas.
Rudd’s biggest career win, the 1997 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, came behind the wheel of his own No. 10 Ford. After closing his operation, he drove three seasons with his final career win coming on the Sonoma road course behind the wheel of the No. 28 Ford.
He finished his career with 374 top-10 finishes (seventh all-time) and 29 career poles, seven more than Earnhardt or Edwards.
Those two are also former Xfinity Series champions, while Rudd raced only three times on NASCAR’s No. 2 tour. Rudd won his first race in the Emmanuel Zervakis-owned No. 01 car at Dover, but had engine failures in his other two starts.
His resume also includes the 1992 International Race of Champions (IROC) title when Rudd finished ahead of Earnhardt Sr.
Whether Rudd is named to the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame class will be much a question if statistics outweigh the fact that he didn’t always have the caliber of equipment of Edwards or Earnhardt.
Rudd drove for Childress and Hendrick before they were championship teams, and Bernstein’s team struggled with engine failure. He never won on the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona or Talladega.
He finished runner-up three times at Bristol and had 31 top-10 finishes on the high-banked short track.