LONG POND, Pa. — This time, Ricky Rudd can't sneak up on anybody.
But Todd Bodine would like to.
Today, Bodine will get that chance when he starts from the pole in the Pennsylvania 500, hoping to win for the first time in his Winston Cup career. To his right when the green flag waves will be Rudd, who ended a 2 1/2-year drought with a victory last month at Pocono International Raceway.
"People don't pay a lot of attention to you until you win," Rudd said of his victory in the Pocono 500. "It's easy to talk a good game plan or a good race, but you've got to go out and prove it."
In 128 career starts, Bodine has yet to prove much. Recently, however, he has shown an ability to outrun the best in NASCAR in qualifying, winning poles for two of the last three races.
Now, he feels like he's ready to make a meaningful impression on race day. But it's hard to take seriously a driver with a best career finish of third — seven years ago.
For Bodine, it's a question of becoming a fixture in the top 10.
"When we do that on a consistent basis, then it's going to allow us to move up in the points and start contending for wins," he said. "We go every week to win the race. But we have to be realistic in our goals."
Rudd was realistic when he sold his team before last year and stuck strictly to driving. After a season of adjustment with Robert Yates Racing, he has become one of the top drivers on the circuit, and trails teammate Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon by 28 points in the series standings.
Even though he was winless for 88 races before last month, 20 career victories helped Rudd become one of most productive drivers in the sport. His 21st — in a car better than anything he'd driven over two decades — served as a reminder that he's more than a 44-year-old racer counting the years until retirement.
But to Rudd, the victory was merely a flash point to say he's a player with champions like Gordon and Jarrett. But top-five finishes in five of his last six races are what has made his season.
"I know we snuck up on people in the points race," Rudd said. "Our team has been doing the top-five thing quite a bit. And the win . . . all of a sudden people take you seriously."
That hasn't been a problem for 1999 series champion Jarrett, who in the past six seasons has finished no worse than fourth in the points race.
Bodine teammate Jimmy Spencer is inside Gordon in the fourth row.