By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Ryan Newman may have claimed the victory in the 2003 Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond Raceway, but the story of the night was the clash of Old School vs. New School in Ricky Rudd and Kevin Harvick that transpired in the closing laps.
Before taking a dive into their incident that Saturday night in September, we have to go back in time a few years further to the 2001 running of the race, when Rudd and Harvick had their first run-in, which ended on much friendlier terms.
With 24 laps to go, Rusty Wallace led, but following a nudge from Rudd, he would fall out of the top spot, which went to Rudd, with Harvick right on his tail. The two battled fiercely over the next handful of laps before Harvick put the bumper to Rudd down the backstretch, nearly spinning him out, and taking the lead for himself.
Rudd miraculously saved his Ford from impact with the inside wall, gathered himself up and set his sights on climbing from third back to the lead.
As the scoring pylon showed six laps to go, Rudd had made it to Harvick’s rear bumper and you guessed it, payback was coming. A bump in the middle of Turns 3 and 4, sent Harvick up the track, allowing Rudd to retake the lead and complete the final five laps to take the win.
“That was just a friendly little short track bump and run there,” Rudd said of the contact between him and Harvick. “He sort of gave me a cheap shot early on. He kept jacking me up on the straightaway and I don’t like that a whole lot. If you’re going to hit somebody, move on, go on, but just don’t just sit there and ride their bumper. It all worked out, I was a little mad at the time, but we came back and won so I kind of cooled off a little bit.
“I didn’t know what to expect on the cool down lap and he came up and congratulated me, so that was pretty neat.”
Despite losing out to the cagey veteran, Harvick was still all smiles after the race recounting their battle.
“I didn’t mean to hit him at all, but I just got into him a little bit and he saved it,” said Harvick. “When you get into somebody that late in the race on a short track, you’ve got to expect a little bit in return. I knew it was coming.
“Our car had fallen off a little bit and his car was pretty good, so I was the first one over to congratulate him. He did what he had to do to win the race and it’s great when you can race with people. I’m just glad I didn’t take him out, because I didn’t mean to do it.”
Fast forward two years and the two drivers were singing a different tune at the end of the night.
Running second with eight laps to go, Harvick was closing in on race leader Ryan Newman to try and take over the lead and score the win, but entering Turn 1, everything changed.
Rudd, who was running third, tagged the Harvick’s rear bumper, sending his No. 29 car spinning and making hard contact with the outside wall. Though Harvick limped home in 16th as the last car on the lead lap, the damage had already been done.
Once the checkered flag flew, Rudd, who finished third, was the only thing on Harvick’s radar and the Richard Childress Racing driver set out to find him.
As Rudd’s car sat on pit road, Harvick drove up next to him and side-swiped his car, before parking it, yelling obscenities at Rudd and his crew and then walking across the hood of Rudd’s car on his way to the NASCAR hauler, even throwing his HANS device at Rudd while walking away.
“I’ll tell you what, the GM Goodwrench car was good tonight,” said Harvick. “Ricky Rudd took a goddamn cheap shot at us. If he’s going to take a cheap shot, he’s going to get one back.”
Meanwhile, Rudd and his Wood Brothers Racing crew were left to survey the damage done to his car.
“Kevin had trouble on the restart, he couldn’t get going or something,” Rudd explained. “I went down into Turn 1 and I guess he put on the brakes a little harder than he had been and I got into the back of him. My fault, but it wasn’t on purpose. It was an accident.
“This stuff here is absolutely ridiculous that NASCAR will put up with it. This is our car that is going to race next week. Look at the hood. Look at the damage. This is totally ridiculous, after the race, stuff like that.”
Rudd concluded his tirade about the contact with Harvick with one of the classic lines in NASCAR history.
“I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.”