There is far more at stake for Ricky Rudd these days than his string of consecutive years with at least one victory.
Rudd, whose longtime sponsor, Tide, is leaving his team at the end of the season, needs to find another sponsor soon or he might have to close the doors of his Mooresville, N.C., race shop.
"We're talking with three pretty good ones right now," Rudd said. "If nobody was talking at all, I'd be pretty nervous."
Still, it's getting down to the wire for the 42-year-old driver-owner, who had won at least one race every year since 1983--the longest active string in NASCAR's Winston Cup series--coming into this season.
"I've pretty well figured we have to have something set by the middle of September or so, or we're going to need to go ahead and shut the place down and move on," Rudd said. "I don't think we're going to have to do that, but we want to be set or really, really close to set by then."
He said the team has gotten a lot of support from fans as it looks for a new sponsor.
"People relate to us better than they do to some of the big teams," Rudd said. "Some of the bigger teams have become like factories. We're more like the family farm."
Even if a sponsor materializes soon, it will be tough for Rudd to continue his victory string. With 14 races remaining, he is 33rd in the points and has no top-five finishes this season.
The 34-race Winston Cup series includes only two road races, but the points in those events count just as much as the points from each of the ovals.
The art of making both left and right turns is different, and some say more difficult, than simply turning left four times on an oval.
"There are some guys who really like road racing, so they concentrate on it," Ward Burton said. "They make the best of it.
"That's versus guys who don't like it, don't want to be out there, and they don't like it from the time they start until they load up Sunday next. . . . I guess the attitude of the driver has a whole lot to do with it."
Kyle Petty, while preparing to race at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York, said: "I don't know what it is about road races. Some drivers start getting that glassy look in their eyes. Some people just don't like road courses, plain and simple.
"The cars are hard to set up right, and it never seems to get to where everybody is happy with the thing. It's compromise for the driver and compromise for the car."
Terry Labonte is known as the Iron Man, thanks to his record string of 621 consecutive starts heading into today's race at Watkins Glen.
But seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt isn't far behind.
The Intimidator will start his 600th straight race today.
"Six hundred consecutive starts is a lot of years of racing without missing the show," Earnhardt said. "This goes back to 1979, and there were one or two of those races that I probably shouldn't have started.
"The one at Watkins Glen [in 1996] when I was all broken up from the wreck at Talladega was probably one of those. But I was determined not to let that keep me down and we came to Watkins Glen and sat on the pole. It hurt, but it felt so good I didn't notice until Monday morning after the race."
Earnhardt raced that year with a broken collarbone and breast bone and finished sixth.
Upcoming event: Bud at the Glen, Watkins Glen, N.Y., Today
1. Dale Jarrett 3,199
2. Mark Martin 2,925
3. Bobby Labonte 2,906
4. Jeff Burton 2,819
5. Tony Stewart 2,711
6. Jeff Gordon 2,692
7. Dale Earnhardt 2,601
8. Terry Labonte 2,378
9. Mike Skinner 2,368
10. Rusty Wallace 2,341
1. Jeff Gordon $4,179,241
2. Jeff Burton $3,176,231
3. Dale Jarrett $2,648,329
4. Bobby Labonte $2,221,971
5. Dale Earnhardt $1,883,749
6. Mark Martin $1,795,441
7. Terry Labonte $1,667,391
8. Mike Skinner $1,529,216
9. Rusty Wallace $1,425,489
10. Kenny Irwin $1,392,856
--Through Brickyard 400, Aug. 7
Busch Grand National
Upcoming event: Pepsi 200, Brooklyn, Mich., Saturday
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3,102
2. Matt Kenseth 3,101
3. Jeff Green 3,004
4. Todd Bodine 2,812
5. Elton Sawyer 2,705
6. Jason Keller 2,611
7. Jeff Purvis 2,565
8. Mike McLaughlin 2,471
9. Randy LaJoie 2,445
10. Dave Blaney 2,343
--Through Kroger 200, Aug. 6