Rudd has rough outing in farewell race

Updated: November 21, 2005, 12:23 AM ET
Associated Press

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd had different emotions as they climbed out of their race cars for the final time Sunday night.

Rusty Wallace
Wallace
Ricky Rudd
Rudd

The two retiring drivers finished 13th and 37th, respectively, in NASCAR's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Wallace, a former series champion, felt like he went out on top. He made the Chase for the championship and finished eighth in the Nextel Cup standings.

"It was a fabulous day," Wallace said. "My last race was pretty normal, full of emotion, full of me wondering what I was going to feel like after it was over and wondering what was going to happen.

"You're talking 21 years of this stuff, close to 40 years of racing. I knew it was time to stop. There's a lot of competition out there and I went out on top. I was proud to do it this way."

Rudd, the circuit's "Iron Man" who started 788 consecutive series races, said he was "just disappointed to end up this way."

"We had come from 25th to 18th and we were going forward and got wrecked on pit road," he said. "It's a darn shame."

Both drivers got standing ovations from the rest of the Nextel Cup competitors during the prerace drivers' meeting.

Wallace, who dubbed his final season "Rusty's Last Call," asked to speak and said, "This is my last race ever -- I'm retiring full-time and I just wanted to stand up and thank all my peers and thank all you competitors for listening to me all year long and having put up with this.

"I remember when I came in, it was [Cale] Yarborough, [David] Pearson, [Richard] Petty, [Dale] Earnhardt, and that's when I was coming in. Now all those guys are gone and I'm here, and you guys are all here. It just feels funny."

Rudd's crew chief, Michael "Fatback" McSwain, offered a tearful goodbye to his driver at the meeting.

"My buddy's leaving me," McSwain said. "He's meant a lot to this sport and I know nobody will ever touch his record for consecutive starts. So, thanks Ricky."

Rudd called his final race an "emotional time."

"I'll be coming out to check on weekends and I might just sit up in the stands, drink a beer and watch everybody," he said.

Biffle's run
Greg Biffle started the season as the hottest driver in NASCAR and ended it in Victory Lane.

The only thing he failed to do was win the Nextel Cup title. Biffle won the Ford 400 on Sunday, but ended the year second in the standings, 35 points behind champion Tony Stewart.

It was Biffle's series-best sixth victory of the year, and he had to beat teammate Mark Martin in a door-to-door battle over the last lap to get it

"It was pretty incredible to race a guy like that for the win, it was pretty neat," Biffle said. "I've never raced Mark for a win like that.

Martin said he thought he had Biffle beat.

"I guess maybe we needed another lap, or maybe I would have crashed trying," Martin said. "I raced Greg hard and I raced him clean and vice versa and he was in front when it was over."

Biffle, Martin and Carl Edwards gave Roush Racing a 1-2-3 finish.

Edwards' ending
Carl Edwards wanted only to have a successful first Nextel Cup season. He did it, winning four races and making a run in the Chase for the championship.

But he was still dissapointed at the end.

Edwards led a race-high 94 laps in the finale in an effort to win the race and make a run at leader Stewart. He faltered late, finished fourth and fell 35 points short of the title.

He blamed his failure on the decision to take four tires on the final pit stop.

"We went in this thing and we pitted with four and I thought we could make it back up there," said Edwards.

He still took solace in what he was able to accomplish.

"Awesome season," he said. "Four wins, I feel if things would have gone a little differently it would be five wins and we'd be second in points."

Car owner Jack Roush shared in Edwards' enthusiasm and predicted big things for the upstart driver.

"I'm going to say that Carl Edwards -- I predict -- is the driver of the decade for not only Roush Racing but for all of Nextel Cup racing," Roush said. "I can't imagine anybody coming into the business in their first full year and being able to win four times, and won in the Busch car for the first time this year."

Martin's new leaf
Initially reluctant to return for yet another Nextel Cup season, Mark Martin is now eager for one more run.

Martin had planned to retire at the end of the year, but was persuaded to return to the No. 6 Ford by car owner Jack Roush when Roush couldn't find an acceptable replacement. He wasn't thrilled -- until after his second-place finish on Sunday.

"I've turned over a new leaf," Martin said. "On TV, Kenny Wallace said I was a pessimist after Charlotte, so I got mad. Now I am so excited about coming back that I just can't stand it. I wish we were starting tomorrow and I'm going to win! That's the new me."

Jeff Gordon, sitting close to Martin, couldn't help but laugh.

"It took Kenny Wallace for you to figure that out?" Gordon asked.

Tireless Gordon
Robby Gordon had a memorable and well traveled race weekend. He finished 14th in the Baja 1000 in Mexico on Saturday, then crossed the finish line 14th at NASCAR's finale in Homestead.

He was one of 359 entrants from 31 states and 12 countries to start the 709-mile Baja course Friday and then traveled through some of the roughest terrain in the region toward the finish line. Competitors were given 30 hours to complete the course.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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