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Thursday, December 21, 2006
Updated: January 8, 3:24 PM ET
Rudd tabbed to drive No. 28 or No. 88

By David Newton
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Robert Yates turned to a familiar face to help turn around his struggling Nextel Cup organization.

Ricky Rudd, who drove the No. 28 Ford for Robert Yates Racing from 2000-2002, will return to NASCAR's premier series after a year off to replace Dale Jarrett.

"I saw fire in Robert's eyes when I met him the other day," Rudd said on Thursday. "He's ready to get this operation turned around. The whole operation is hungry. I couldn't be back at a more opportune time."

Rudd, 50, said it was that fire he saw in Yates that made him want to rejoin an organization that he left with somewhat hard feelings. He emphasized he didn't return to drive around the middle of the pack as he did from 2003-2005 for the Wood Brothers.

"If you look at the nature of my makeup, I'm a very competitive person," Rudd said. "I wouldn't be back out here and Robert wouldn't have me if our goals were to run mid-pack.

"I can't see any reason why we can't be competitive."

Rudd will help provide veteran leadership for rookie David Gilliland, who will drive the No. 38. There is a chance he will be back in the No. 28 with Yates considering a change from the No. 88 driven by Jarrett.

But Yates, who said that decision hasn't been finalized, is more excited about the prospects of becoming competitive again. He said the turnaround at Richard Childress Racing this past year gave him hope it can be done.

"A couple of years ago I was feeling really bad for that group and wishing them to do good," Yates said. "In a blink of an eye I needed him to feel the same way about me."

RYR lost both of its drivers -- Jarrett left for Toyota's new Michael Waltrip Racing and Elliott Sadler for Evernham Motorsports -- last season.

The organization that won the Cup title with Jarrett in 1999 is coming off its first winless season since it was formed in 1989. RYR has only four victories since 2003 and hasn't won a race since Jarrett captured the October 2005 race at Talladega.

"Robert Yates Racing did not have their best year last year," Rudd said. "Once you sort of taste the success like Robert has, when you don't have a good year it makes you even hungrier.

"Robert tried to change some things in the organization and it sort of backfired and went the other way."

Yates had so much trouble trying to find a second sponsor for 2007 that he at one point considered downsizing to a one-car team.

The deal with Snickers to serve as primary sponsor for a second team allowed him to keep two teams and hire Rudd.

"When Ricky drove for us in the previous years you always looked forward going to the track," Yates said. "Having him in the car was the most popular thing I could do within my 125 employees."

Rudd's last win came in the 2002 race at Sonoma, Calif., for RYR. He has 23 career wins and 373 top-10s in a career that began 31 years ago.

Winless his last three seasons with the Wood Brothers, Rudd looks forward to his new challenge and having a teammate.

"The desire to race never left," Rudd said. "The desire to have a chance to regroup was something I needed to do. I feel I'm more focused than ever by having that time off."

As for how long he drives for RYR, Rudd said that depends on his success.

"We're taking it a year at a time," he said. "If we come out of the box and pick up the pace and are competitive I don't think there is a time limit on this thing."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.