Rudd honored by crew

When NASCAR failed to recognize the career accomplishments of Ricky Rudd during what might have been his final drivers meeting, his crew chief, Michael McSwain, came to the rescue. During a season dominated by recognition for the retiring Rusty Wallace, there has been little for the veteran Rudd. But at the conclusion of Sunday's drivers meeting, McSwain unexpectedly stood up and offered a tearful farewell to NASCAR's "Ironman." "My buddy is leaving me, and I don't think there will ever be another one like him," said McSwain, so overcome with emotion that he struggled to finish each sentence. "He's done a lot for this sport, and I know nobody will ever touch his record for consecutive starts." Rudd, who made his Nextel Cup-record 788th straight start on Sunday and has announced he won't return to drive the #21 Ford next season, seemed taken aback by McSwain's impromptu salute. He stood up and acknowledged his longtime crew chief, before addressing the drivers. "[I] thank everybody for allowing me to compete with you all," said Rudd, who wound up 37th in the season finale, five laps behind the leaders. "I'll come out and check on you on the weekends when I can sit up in the stands, drink beer and watch everybody." An hour later, as he strolled with his wife, Linda, to driver introductions, Rudd said he was caught off guard in the drivers meeting. "I didn't expect it," the 49-year-old Rudd said. "I was getting through this weekend, then I got a little choked up. I was awful proud. NASCAR sort of ignored me and [McSwain] got up and said a few words for me. I can't put into words what it meant." NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter defended the sanctioning body's decision not to honor Rudd before the Ford 400. "Ricky hasn't retired," Hunter said. "Rusty said he's retiring. Ricky said, 'I'm going to step back. I may drive if the right thing comes along.' As far as we know, Ricky hasn't retired. If he had said he was retiring, I'm sure we would have recognized him." Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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