Ragan A Winner, But There’s Work To Be Done
David Ragan has been piloting Fords for Roush-
Fenway Racing in NASCAR’s Camping World Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series’ since 2006. It’s been a very long road to victory lane, but after a near flawless performance at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, he finally got there for one of the most popular wins of the 2011 season.
With the win came new life for the Concord, N.C., based team. There’s a new feeling of optimism in the air, especially since Ragan is closer to gaining a wild card birth in the coveted Chase for the Sprint Cup championship over the final 10 races. The win also couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the fact the Unadilla, Ga., driver is in a contract year and hasn’t yet secured his plans for the 2012 season and beyond.
Ragan came very close to winning the Daytona 500 in February, but an illegal lane switch while leading in the closing laps took him out of contention. That mistake has haunted him since but is erased from memory now that he’s a winner at the famed 2.5-mile track.
“It was a tough one in February and coming back we knew that we’d have a shot to win,” Ragan said. “We felt good all weekend walking around. We went through practice and felt good about our race car, qualified great, the team did a nice job with our car. When we qualified, that’s probably the first time I really felt like we’ve got a car that’s fast enough that we can win if we make the right decisions throughout the race. So we made a pact with our teammate Matt Kenseth that we were gonna work together through thick or thin.
“I knew we had the car to do it. I just tried to not make any mistakes, try to put ourselves in good position and we wound up obviously being in the lead on the last restart and that was the winning moment for us to be able to start on the front row.”
The 25-year old is feeling pretty good about the competitive corner he and his Drew Blickensderfer-led crew have recently turned.
“It certainly adds some extra pressure,” Ragan said concerning the win and the possible Chase birth. “We have to make that win count for something. I think that we have felt like we were close to being able to win some races this year and we knew we could do it. Until you finally get that win you never really think about how close you can be to making the Chase.
“Those wild card spots are going to be fought for extremely hard. I was talking to (Brad) Keselowski earlier and he is right behind us in points. We are another win or some more top-fives from being in the top 12 or 13 and a realistic chance of making the Chase. It puts some extra pressure on you and makes you really appreciate that win and look forward to these next races and make sure we are perfect and spot-on.”
Since the win at Daytona, Ragan has been put on the fast track doing interviews and making appearances. Some of them have come in his home state, which seems to be a real treat for the lanky, slow talking southerner. There will be a lot of great memories surrounding his first win that he’ll never forget.
“I remember eating airport food a lot,” Ragan said. “I had a scheduled appearance July 4th in Atlanta for Ford already so we went down and did that which kind of worked out cool. It was at Stone Mountain before their Fourth of July deal talking about the new 2012 Ford Focus. That was fun to hang out with local hometown people and some friends stopped by and saw us.
“Going up to ESPN was a lot of fun. It is something where we always watch NASCAR Now and SportsCenter but to be able to go up there and talk about something fun, it was neat. That was a cool trip because you don’t realize what goes into the production of all the ESPN stuff around the world and to see that first hand and taking a tour talking about our win was fun for me.
“Talking to some of the local media on Wednesday when we did Race Hub and some of the stations in the Charlotte area was fun. Then we got back to work.”
Ragan has always been confident he would win in at The Sprint Cup level to add to his Nationwide and Truck series victories. But now that’s he’s been to a Sprint Cup victory lane, there’s more than he’ll be asking of himself in the future.
“Sometimes I perform and the team performs better under pressure,” Ragan said. “We have had pressure my entire career here. We will enjoy the win more in December and January when we can really enjoy it and say, ‘Hey, we are a Sprint Cup winner at Daytona.” We have a lot of fight left.”
Ragan was a bit philosophical when talking about his season in relation to the Chase. But throughout his career, the even-keeled old school throwback has always been positive, no matter the adversity that has come his way.
“It would be one thing if we were 25th in points and hadn’t been running well and we could just say, ‘Hey, we won a race and there is no pressure and that is cool.’ Now we have to do something with that win,” Ragan said. “We’ve been close and we’ve had some top-10 runs consistently this year and now we have to make the best of it. I think we are as close to making the Chase as we were in ’08 and I have learned from that and hopefully we can close the deal on that this year too.”
Along with the pressure to secure a place in the Chase is the fact UPS, Ragan’s primary sponsor, must make a decision as to whether they’ll stay with Roush-Fenway Racing for move to another team in 2012. Ragn hopes the win at Daytona will show it the team is now a winner.
“I think that the summer months are certainly the time when all the decisions are made. I don’t know for sure but my guess would be in the next four to six weeks is when a decision would be made,” Ragan said. “Certainly winning helps and running well helps and getting TV time and sitting on poles all helps. That is what I can control.
“The management at Roush Fenway and UPS will go to work figuring out the details. What I think about is what I can control. I have had a great time with UPS and I feel like we have a good relationship and a good thing going and I look for it to continue but that is something that the management at Roush and UPS will work on and hopefully I can uphold my end of the deal and keep that Ford up front.”
Wins usually breed wins.
On the other end of the spectrum, the list of one-time Sprint Cup winners is very long. Ragan is on that list as of now but has every intention of winning more races in 2011 and hopes for a breakout season in 2012. Chemistry between himself and his team is the key and its looks as though they’ve found it. http://motorsportsunplugged.com/?p=3946
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