Rudd cleared to return at Lowe's this weekend

Ricky Rudd has been cleared by doctors to return to the No. 88 Ford this weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the veteran driver told ESPN.com on Monday.

Rudd separated his left shoulder and was briefly knocked unconscious during a crash Labor Day weekend at California Speedway. It was his 900th career Nextel Cup Series start.

"The plan right now is to race this weekend," Rudd said. "I have to get a release from NASCAR, but the doctor said there's no reason why I couldn't race this week.

"There are a couple of technicalities, more of a formality than anything -- liability issues and things like that. The doctor has to give an official word to NASCAR, and he said that will happen."

Rudd missed five races while rehabbing the injured left shoulder. The hardest part, he said, was the unknown. He knew he wanted to race, but didn't know when, or even if, that would happen.

"I always wanted to come back, but didn't know much about a separated shoulder," Rudd said. "I've broken bones before, done that, so you kind of know what to expect. But with the separated shoulder, my left arm was useless for a while.

"What's that mean? One week? Six weeks? And doctors aren't real clear about it. They don't tell you it'll take so many days to heal. I never did actually hear a time frame. The unknowns were hard."

In all, though, the experience wasn't unbearable. In fact, it proved quite educational. Rudd learned a lot, was able to nose around the garage and see how teams prepared differently and how cars were built differently.

The experience "wasn't really hard on me," he said. "It was a pretty physical deal and it hurt. It's like anything -- you can take it easy or get aggressive. These guys were aggressive. I will say this -- it's made tremendous improvement.

"The most awkward thing was going to the track and not climbing in the car, being at the event and doing everything normal, but not getting in the car. You wonder what to do with yourself, like, 'now what?' "

Rudd admitted he'd have had a much tougher time coping had he been in championship contention.

"It's not like we were a championship contender team and got knocked out," he said. "We're 30-something in points. There's never a good time to get hurt, but if we were top-10 material and were running for wins, it'd be a whole lot harder."

Marty Smith covers motorsports for ESPN.com.