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May 02, 2014 - 06:15 PM
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2014 Talladega Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - David Ragan
Posted by: ASkyler on May 02, 2014 - 06:11 PM
2014 Talladega Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - David Ragan

David Ragan, driver of the No. 34 KFC Ford Fusion, registered the second win of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career and first for Front Row Motorsports when he won last year’s Aaron’s 499 here at Talladega Superspeedway. Ragan held a press conference before today’s practice sessions to talk about that day and his hopes for repeating on Sunday.

DAVID RAGAN - No. 34 KFC Ford Fusion - CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WINNING LAST YEAR AND HOW IF YOU WIN THIS YEAR YOU HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF BEING IN THE CHASE. "I’m very happy to be back at Talladega. Obviously, our track record speaks a lot. We’ve had some good race cars here even before we were able to win this race a year ago. We’ve had some fast cars and been in contention even from my first couple of Sprint Cup races here in ’07 and ’08, but this is a fun track, it’s a unique race. Daytona and Talladega are different races than what we experience all other race tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit and I tell everyone that I enjoy coming here. I wouldn’t enjoy racing this type of race 36 times a year, but four times a year - two at Daytona and two at Talladega - I really enjoy this type of racing. It fits my style. Our race cars are good at these places. I’ve got good Ford engines and our Ford Fusions have been fast, so it is fun to come here. We’ve kind of gotten off to a rotten start to start the 2014 season, so this could be a good race for us to just have a solid run and kind of turn our season around. It’s great weather. The crowds are always good here at Talladega, so it is a fun weekend. Just in the back of our minds we do think a little bit about if we can get that win, and that’s not just at Talladega but at any track, you’re in the Chase. That’s something we don’t want to be overwhelmed with and really think about that more than we should, but it is something that we think about it and I guarantee every other team that has not got a win yet this year they think about that too. In the closing laps of Sunday’s race, I guarantee the top six or eight or top 10 guys that are in contention for the win they’re gonna be thinking about that Chase berth if they can cross the finish line first. It’s something that we’re thinking about and we’ve just got to execute all weekend to try to get to that point."


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CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU AND DAVID GILLILAND WERE ABLE TO DO LAST YEAR TO WIN HERE, AND THEN WHY YOU COULDN’T REPEAT THAT IN THE FALL? "What you’re not able to do is predict what the other 42 guys on the race track, where they’re going to be, what they’re going to be doing, how aggressive they’re going to be the first three-quarters of the race. Every team probably has a thought process going into the race - ‘We’d like to see this happen. We’d like to work together. We want to achieve this,’ but it doesn’t always work like that and like every other team we had a game plan that if we’re close to one another we’ll certainly try to work together for the common good of Front Row Motorsports until that last lap when all bets are off and you race for the win. I couldn’t have won the race without David Gilliland and he couldn’t have finished second without me leading him there at the end, so it was certainly a team effort, but this is very much a crapshoot, a roulette wheel like you explained. There are so many factors that go in to what happens because you’re dependent on one another in the draft. At other types of race tracks you’re looking for clean air, you’re looking for that line that no one else is running and here and Daytona it’s totally opposite. You’re looking to be in the tire tracks of someone that’s fast, you’re looking to have six or eight cars lined up versus that line that only has one or two cars in it. So you’re looking for other people and what you do and the decisions I’ll make behind the wheel are very much on what cars around me are doing, so it is very opposite from what we’re doing on a normal weekend."

DAVID RAGAN CONTINUED -- DOES WIN AND IN PRESENT YOU WITH A TALLER ORDER FOR THE CHASE THAN OTHER TEAMS LIKE HENDRICK? "There’s no question about it, we would have a very tall order to compete with those teams and, really, we are not a Chase contender. We’re a wild card contender. We can be that and there are a lot of other teams that may have a chance to win at a road course, may have a chance to put tires on late at Atlanta Motor Speedway that just chews up tires and kind of sneak a win out. We are not consistent enough to win several races, click off five or six top-10s in a row and we realize that, but what NASCAR has done has given us a chance to be in the Chase for the championship and that would really change the course of Front Row Motorsports and what we’re trying to achieve as a team and personally as a driver. Hat’s go off to NASCAR for being bold and making that adjustment to our playoff system that expands the field to 16 teams and we’re certainly not gonna be a threat to win the championship if we can get into the Chase, and whoever wins that race at Watkins Glen that can’t win any other races, they’re not gonna be a threat to win the championship either, but you’re in the show and you never know what can happen, and you’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got to get a top-5 before you can get a win, or you’ve got to get that first win before you can get your second. We realize where we’re at in this sport and we’re happy to be in here talking about it."

ARE YOU STILL SUBSCRIBING TO THE THEORY OF TESTING AT TRACKS WHERE YOU’RE ALREADY GOOD BECAUSE THAT GIVES YOU A BETTER CHANCE AT WINNING? AND IS TALLADEGA A RACE YOU CIRCLE ON THE CALENDAR? "For sure and that’s really what we have done. Looking at Front Row Motorsports’ position in the world of NASCAR, we felt like we really struggled at the high-speed, high-downforce race tracks, where mechanical grip and aero grip both play a factor. So we realize that as our weak point, but looking into this year NASCAR adjusting the qualifications for the Chase, we decided we really needed to look at Bristol and Martinsville are two tracks where we have a threat that in a perfect situation we could run well and have a chance to win - Daytona, Talladega and really Watkins Glen and Sonoma. I’m not that great of a road racer, but my teammate David Gilliland is a good road racer and he would have a great shot at winning Sonoma, contending at Watkins Glen, so we have put some extra effort and parts and pieces, spent some extra money to try to help us for those tracks - a little testing for those tracks as well. To answer your question about how it’s gone so far, not that great. We did run well at Martinsville. We had issues at both of the short tracks, car parts and mechanical failures that have taken us out of a good day, but we still have some optimism going into the second part of the season and I know we’ve got some race tracks on the schedule that we can perform well at, but I’m sure other teams have done the same thing - look at your strong suits and try to make them a little stronger and that’s all you need is one win. I think one win can get you into the Chase and that’s why we take Talladega very serious and we do all that we can and try to come here with a good attitude and try to make the best of the weekend."

DO YOU EXPECT A TEAM LIKE YOURS TO GET IN THE CHASE? "Absolutely. I think you look at AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears - they’ve been running a lot better this year - even look at the Petty cars, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola - they are not consistent enough to make the Chase in the old format. I think they would admit that too. Look at our team, you look at Tommy Baldwin’s guys, Reed Sorenson had a shot to win the Daytona 500 this year. Yes, there will be one, maybe two cars, that will benefit from the new changes and will make the Chase, absolutely."

DAVID RAGAN CONTINUED -- WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT HERE? "There’s no question that we’re gonna run together. The bigger the pack and the more cars you have, the faster you go, but everyone has to sit down and think about what they want to achieve from qualifying. Do you want to sit on the pole? If you want to set fast time or qualify in the top three or four you’re gonna have to be aggressive and make some risky moves. If you want to be conservative and just make the race, you can be a little conservative and maybe ride behind the pack or have a clean lap and come in and just park it. You just need to determine what you want to get out of qualifying, but there’s no doubt there will be a fairly large pack, I would assume the first part of that qualifying and there’s no secret - the bigger the pack, the more cars that are in line, the faster you’re going to go. You’ll have some guys that realize they’ll have a chance for the pole that maybe wouldn’t have a chance for the pole and they’ll take some chances, but I think in our case we just want to play it cool. Obviously get into the race. It would be great to qualify in the top 15 or 20 where we could get a little better pit stall selection, but I didn’t really come down here to just set my focus on sitting on the pole. We came down to try to do everything we can to win the race. It doesn’t really matter where you qualify."

WHAT IS YOUR MENTALITY IN THESE RACES KNOWING YOU’D LIKE TO BRING THE CAR BACK IN ONE PIECE? "I certainly think about that throughout the race and what decisions that I make. I probably don’t think about it as much as our general manager Jerry Freeze does because he’s the one that has to write the checks to buy these new parts and pieces, but it is something that once we have a good handling or fast car that we don’t have the time to do white light scanning and spend a lot of time in the wind tunnels and re-produce a good car, so if we’ve got something that’s strong and fast - what we’ve had in the past - certainly we’d like to take care of it, but we all realize at the end of these races you’ve got to be aggressive and you can’t think about that. But it is something in practice that we do think about. Our backup cars aren’t as good as our primary cars. They’re our primary cars for a reason, so that’s why we really choose not to practice a lot during practice qualifying. That goes into our strategy for qualifying but once they drop the green flag in the race you can’t really think about that much because you are here to race and you are here to try to win the race and sometimes that does mean taking chances that could result in tearing your race car up. But we do think about that more in practice and qualifying versus the race."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING KFC ON THE CAR THIS WEEK FOR THE FIRST TIME. DID WINNING HERE HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT? "Yeah, I think winning Talladega last year had a lot to do with it. We do have a relationship with some of the Yum brands. Our team owner, Bob Jenkins, is a franchisee for Taco Bell, Long Johns Silver’s, KFC and winning the race last year they paid attention to that. There’s obviously a lot of race fans with Yum brands and certainly KFC. They’ve got the KFC Go Cup that they’re pushing and promoting and they’ve got a relationship with NASCAR and Fox and some of the things that they do, so they’re definitely a big supporter and a big believer in NASCAR. It was great timing. We had been talking to them about a few other races and Talladega came up and as the defending race winner and a great chance to run well and get some good TV time, it just worked out, but they’ve been great to work with. We had a little store appearance last night where we gave away some KFC Go Cups to a lot of race fans and a lot of people stopping off and getting something to eat, so it’s been a good partnership and it’s been fun. The car looks great and we’re very grateful to have KFC on board and hopefully it turns into something a little bigger and better, but definitely the win did play a big part in making it happen."

DAVID RAGAN CONTINUED -- DO YOU ANTICIPATE THIS RACE BEING MORE WIDE-OPEN THAN IN THE PAST? "I think the strategies that every team has, they’re all a little different. Every driver, every crew chief, every spotter really has a different idea on what it takes to win. From what I think will happen, and usually what does happen, is the first part of the race is very racy and you get into a point in the middle where you’re just kind of riding and logging some laps. These are 500-mile races and sometimes I think we do forget that, that they are very long races and we are taking care of our equipment, whether it be our engines or how aggressive we are on our temperatures. We all have strategy, whether we’re taking no tires, two tires or four tires during the event, so you have a part during the middle of the race where everyone is kind of taking a breath and setting themselves up for the remaining 60-70 laps or 100 miles. I always break the race into three parts. The first part everyone is kind of racing hard, getting themselves set up. The middle part you’re taking it easy and setting yourself up for the end, and then the end is always very exciting. You can see trends over the years with cautions and passes under the green flag and kind of see that, so I expect that will probably be about the same. There’s no chance for rain on Sunday, so you’ll probably see a race like that on Sunday. But I guarantee the final 10 or 12 laps will probably be as crazy as we’ve ever seen because everyone will be thinking about getting that win like they’ve been thinking about it all year."

FINAL COMMENTS. "One thing, I know a lot of you guys were friends with Capt. Herb Emory in Atlanta. We lost him last month and I know we’ve got some of our friends here out of the Atlanta market and I want to say hello to anyone that’s a friend of his. He was a good supporter of me and I always think about him anytime I talk to you guys, so if you knew Capt. Herb, he’ll be missed."

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