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Rudd, Yates reunite for one season

For the past several months, there have been whispers of Ricky Rudd’s return to the Nextel Cup Series.

Finally, after mulling over various offers, the Virginia Sports Hall of Famer announced yesterday he’ll end his one-year hiatus. Rudd agreed to a one-year deal that reunites him with Robert Yates Racing next season.

Rudd, 50, from Chesapeake, retired after the 2005 season. He will team with David Gilliland, who replaced Emporia’s Elliott Sadler in the No. 38 Ford at midseason this year, likely leaving Rudd with the No. 88. That had been driven by Dale Jarrett, who bolted for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Rudd, though, said he would prefer the No. 28, which had been driven by the late Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan, the Kenny Irwin and himself.

&uot;Just from a driver’s standpoint, I always was proud to drive the 28 just because of the history of that number with Davey and Robert when they began that team [in 1989], and then on with Ernie Irvan,&uot; Rudd said. &uot;I guess if I had a personal preference, I like the 28 just because of the history of it.&uot;

In three seasons with RYR, Rudd posted three of his 23 career wins in 106 starts – including one win during his last season with RYR in 2002.

While Yates has assigned Butch Hylton as Rudd’s crew chief, he hasn’t decided on the 28 or 88 for Rudd.

&uot;We’re excited about getting Ricky, but that’s going to be a team decision,&uot; said Yates, whose drivers have combined for three Daytona 500 victories. &uot;I think it will come in the near future.

&uot;The opportunity to get Ricky, who had three very successful years with us, is back to do it again,&uot; Yates said. &uot;Hopefully, we can start off equally or better than we were, and we’re looking forward to that.&uot;

Rudd said his primary focus is helping RYR reclaim its place among NASCAR’s elite. Yates’ drivers have only four victories since Rudd left for Wood Brothers Racing after the 2002 season.

&uot;I saw the fire in Robert’s eyes when I met him the other day,&uot; said Rudd, who steered Tony Stewart’s No. 20 to a 25th-place finish in the MBNA 400 at Dover in his only start this past season. &uot;He’s ready to get this operation turned around, and the whole operation is hungry. I couldn’t be back at better opportune time than right now.

&uot;Robert tried to reorganize a little bit and change some things within the organization to make them a stronger outfit, and it sort of backfired and went the other way. Now he’s regrouped.&uot;

Rudd and Yates are regrouping, too.

The two have seemingly moved forward after putting their rather unpleasant past behind them. They acknowledged having to mend some old wounds created by their split.

&uot;I think what happened is that we had success and I wouldn’t say it came easily, but we had a lot of good things happen for us, and I’m not so sure that that success wasn’t what maybe drove us apart,&uot; Rudd said. &uot;I think I’m a smarter person right now than I was three or four years ago.

&uot;You spend so much time around each other that you can’t help but to have disagreements and I think maybe the way we handled those disagreements, we might face them a little earlier instead of letting them fester like maybe we did last time.&uot;