CONCORD, N.C. -- Ricky Rudd, one race away from breaking the NASCAR record for consecutive starts, might not have too many more events in his future.
Rudd, in his 21st season of Winston Cup racing, said Monday he has not ruled out retiring at the end of this season - partly because of the changing face of NASCAR and the way the sport is being marketed.
"I have a lot of options, one of them is retirement, and it's something I'll give a lot of thought too," Rudd said while testing his Robert Yates Ford at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "I'm 45 years old and I certainly don't see myself doing this when I'm 50, so it's something I'll be thinking about."
Rudd is set to make his 656th consecutive start at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26, which would break Terry Labonte's Iron Man record. He tied the mark Saturday when he started the race at Richmond International Raceway.
Rudd's name has repeatedly come up in a recent rash of rumors concerning driver movement. It started when Elliott Sadler asked for a release from Wood Brothers Racing and Rudd's No. 28 is one of the cars Sadler could reportedly end up in.
Rudd's three-year contract with Yates is up at the end of the season.
"There's a lot of stuff being said and I know I've been linked to it," Rudd said. "Half the people have me retiring, have the people have me going to another team. The truth is, I don't know what I'm going to do."
Retirement is viable because of Rudd's disenchantment with where NASCAR is headed, he said.
He dislikes the toll the schedule takes on family life and knows that as his 7-year-old son gets older, it will be harder to take him on the road for 36 races.
"Everyone says NASCAR is a family sport, and for the fans in the grandstands it is," he said. "But for us, the travel and time on the road, it doesn't really lend itself to a family life and I guess that's the way NASCAR wants it."
Rudd is particularly annoyed with the way the sport is now being marketed, pointing out an emphasis TV coverage has given to the young drivers.
A group of twentysomethings, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sadler, Kevin Harvick and rookies Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, have burst onto the Winston Cup scene. Rudd thinks NASCAR is steering its image toward them.
"I have no problem with the youth movement, I really don't," Rudd said. "But I've seen with this TV deal older guys getting ignored."
NASCAR is in the second year of a multi-network TV deal that's worth about $400 million a year to the sanctioning body. Under the package, Fox has the first half of each season, while NBC and TNT split the second half. Fox and NBC alternate airing the Daytona 500.
It's put the sport in the mainstream and changed too much for Rudd's liking.
"I see some of the things that have changed with the TV deal, and it makes me think NASCAR has sold its soul to the devil," he said. "They are massaging this thing to target a certain crowd and before you know it, they'll have us up there flexing and in bathing suits like we're professional wrestlers."