Ricky Rudd nearly won last year's NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. The driver of the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Taurus was leading the race when a group of lapped cars wrecked in front of him with 19 laps remaining.

Unfortunately, Rudd was unable to avoid the wreck, missing out on his chance to obtain his first win for Texaco/Havoline and Robert Yates Racing.

However, Rudd did take the No. 28 car into victory lane this season for the first time at Pocono in June and also at Richmond in September. This Sunday, Rudd heads back to Phoenix for the Checker Auto Parts 500 and hopes to change his fortune and get the win that slipped away from him last year.

"Not being able to win at Phoenix last year was incredibly disappointing," Rudd said. "Because the car was so good and everything was going our way, my plan was to keep driving in front until the end of the race. I had led for about 40 laps when I saw the wreck way up in front of me."

"I thought I was going to be in good shape, but cars kept wrecking and sliding to the inside of the track right into my path. Unfortunately, I couldn't avoid it. Our team had several heartbreakers last year, but Phoenix was one of the worst. However, I'm optimistic about Sunday's race. Along with running well here last year, the No. 28 team has proven that we're now a championship contending team."

"We're also very good at flat track racing. Fatback (crew chief Michael McSwain) really has those tracks figured out so we're looking forward to Sunday."

Rudd, who won at Phoenix in 1995, would also like to become only the second driver to win multiple Winston Cup races at the 1-mile desert raceway. The late Davey Allison, who also drove the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford, is the track's only two-time winner.

Because the past two races have not ended favourably for the No. 28 team - losing a motor at Martinsville and finishing 39th, and then getting caught up in the big wreck on the last lap at Talladega and finishing 26th - winning at Phoenix would give them a boost going into the last four races of the year and also make up for the team's bad luck here last season.

Rudd is currently second in the NASCAR Winston Cup points battle, trailing Jeff Gordon by 395 and is leading third-place Tony Stewart by 74 points. "I'm ready for Phoenix," Rudd said. "I'd like to go out there and get the one that got away from us last year."