Ragan Relishes Return to Daytona

David Ragan

David Ragan celebrates after he took the lead on the last lap to win at Talladega in the most recent restrictor-plate race. (Photo Getty Images)

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Before employees arrived at Front Row Motorsports on a Monday morning in early May, someone had taped “WOW!” by the front door.

A day earlier, David Ragan won and teammate David Gilliland finished second at Talladega Superspeedway in the most recent restrictor-plate race, giving the team its first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.

Cup teams head to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 hoping they can share the feelings Ragan had at Talladega. Or had at Daytona when he scored his first career Sprint Cup victory in July 2011.

“Daytona is a special place in general, but certainly having been to Victory Lane there makes it extra special,’’ Ragan said. “You've got confidence going into that race knowing that you've been there, you've done that, you know when to go hard and when to be conservative.’’

Just as he did at Talladega in May when he rocketed into the lead on the last lap.

So how can that Talladega win benefit Ragan this weekend?

“I think that the only thing that's in my back pocket from those speedway wins is maybe some confidence in the other drivers' eyes that, “Hey, David can make a good decision, we can stick with him, I feel comfortable drafting with him,‘ ‘‘ said Ragan, who will use the same car this weekend that he won with at Talladega.

“It worked out perfect having David Gilliland as a teammate right behind me. I knew what he was going to do without even having to ask or think about it. If that happens again, that's certainly a positive for us.’’

The Talladega victory gave Ragan his second in the last eight Cup restrictor-plate races, tying Matt Kenseth for most plate wins in that stretch.

Even with those victories, restrictor-plate racing has been fickle for Ragan. Since his win at Daytona, he has been eliminated in the last three races there because of accidents, including last year’s Daytona 500 when he was collected in a crash just after the start.

“You look at ... those races and think about what you did right and what you did wrong,’’ Ragan said. “All I can say is a lot of it is a gut decision. You can't sit here on a Tuesday or even on a Thursday or Friday and have a plan and just stick to it.  

“You've got to make decisions as the flow of the race changes. If they have a big wreck early in the race and there's only 25 cars running, then your strategy changes. If there's 40 cars still running at the end of the race with 50 laps to go, your strategy changes again.

“You've just got to know all the factors and rely on your crew chief, your spotter, and myself and my judgment, and try to make the best decision you can. We'll try to look at all those factors. I'll know what kind of car I'll have, whether it's a very, very fast car or an average car, whether it's good in a tight pack or by itself. You weigh in all those factors, and it's ultimately up to me to make the best decision.

"Hopefully, I'll prepare myself enough where I can make a good decision, and, if we're in contention at the end of the race, I feel like my chances are as good as any at making the right moves in the closing laps of the race.’’

 

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