Robert Yates has a replacement for Dale Jarrett. Finally, the team can get back to the business of racing and preparing cars with the knowledge of who will be behind the wheel.
But was the 'right driver', chosen? According to fellow Texan Terry Blount's ESPN blog, that answer is 'no.'
But I think before one can really pass that judgement, one needs to look at the unique situation both Robert Yates and 38 sponsor MasterFoods was really in. With DJ and UPS jumping ship, and with multi years remaining on the 38/M&MS contract, Robert not only had to find a driver for his other team, but also needed to find a sponsor. A sponsor that provided tier one dollars. (or as close to it as he could get) Not for the obvious reason, but because this was one of the reasons presented to MasterFoods in the first place when they signed on with RYR in '03.
Robert never could find that sponsor which risked leaving the 38 as a 'single car' team. One only had to hear Ricky's/RYR/MasterFood's conference call today to hear him say, "In today's market, you have to have a multi-car organization to be competitive and win races...." And that statement could not be more truer than in today's nascar.
The other side of this dilemma was MasterFoods themselves, their 'loyalty' to their partnerships and the carrot that was dangled in front of them by RYR. That carrot was an opportunity to 'combine' sponsorships of two teams into one large sponsorship without significantly hurting the 38 team. Of course that came with a price tag, but the long term upside was much greater than the short term down side. MasterFoods over the past two decades and especially in the past 3 years had invested too much into their Nascar image. Risking losing that because their RYR counterpart team was dangerously close to folding was something that they could not let happen.
So in comes MasterFoods to save the day, not only are they saving in the short term Robert Yates Racing, but also saving their 20 year investment. This 'one year' deal does exactly what it is designed to do, which is to 'Buy' RYR another year to rebound from a dismal '06 season and find that stability in sponsorship the RYR has benefited from over the years.. One that has seen one driver 'mail it in' race after race (actually I feel DJ has been doing this for a couple of years), and another driver 'give up' in mid stream. Call it a 'band-aid', call it what you want, but sometimes something like this is needed to stop the bleeding and rejuvenate a race team. MasterFoods and their sponsorship does just that.
Now I have never been in the Ricky Rudd faithful camp, but for a 'one year deal', and having an 'unproven' driver in the 38, I cannot think of a better driver to help turn this ship around, as long as Ricky has his 'head right with ball'. Judging from the conference call, that seems to be the case, and lets site a couple of examples.
1) The year off has helped Ricky in terms of being 'hungry' again.
2) The three seasons he spent with the Wood Brothers gave him an appreciation for having quality equipment and it's uniqueness in today's Nascar. (remember, in '02, Ricky can be quoted saying that the Wood Brothers had 'just as good equipment is anyone else') Now RYR is not the Wood Brothers of those days, but they are not far off, and Ricky's insight and recent past experience is just an added bonus.
3) Both Robert and Ricky mentioned how events took place in their parting in '02, but it was what Ricky said that stood out. He likened it to arguing or fighting with a family member, and over time, even though you still think you are 'right', it is still family. You realize that mistakes were made, and hope that if the opportunity arises again, those same mistakes will not be made again.
4) Even in '02, Ricky prefered 'year to year' deals. While this is not the best in terms of sponsorship, it fits this situation to a Tee.
Robert needed time to secure long term sponsorship for one of his teams, Ricky was ready to race again and lastly, MasterFoods needed to protect their existing investment. For this upcoming season, I can't help to think there could be anymore of a 'win/win/win' season, for all involved.
Now add the icing on the cake, realistically, just what are the expectations of either RYR team this upcoming season? A top 18 to a top 14 in points (mix in some a couple top 5s and a few top 10s, maybe a contention for a 'win' now in then). If RYR can do that, sponsors will come banging down the door as the foundation has been laid for a great '08 season. Even if Ricky is not in the plans, he would have his choice of quality rides if he chose that path.
Really, when you think about it, this whole deal is pretty amazing that all parties involved were able to pull it off and i wish all parties the best. As it has renewed for me , my personal interest in Robert Yates Racing.
The irony of it all!