David Ragan celebrates his win two months ago at Talladega.

David Ragan heads to Daytona seeking back-to-back restrictor plate track wins

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Pop quiz: Dating back to the start of the 2011 season, three drivers have won two restrictor plate races each – six out of 10 races in that time period.

Two of the three drivers aren’t a surprise: Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.

But who is the third driver to win two, as well?

Could it be Kurt Busch? Kyle Busch? Tony Stewart? Kevin Harvick? Carl Edwards? Brad Keselowski?

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope.

(A big hint: he won at Daytona AND Talladega – the only tracks he’s won at thus far in his career.)

Would you believe that third driver is … drum roll, please … David Ragan?

Yep, the pride and joy of Unadilla, Ga., won the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway and the 2013 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this year, where he and teammate David Gilliland finished 1-2 for Front Row Motorsports.

And as the Sprint Cup world prepares for this Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Ragan is looking to make it back-to-back plate track wins.

“Hopefully, that win in the spring, some guys still remember that and they’re comfortable drafting with me,” Ragan said during NASCAR’s weekly media teleconference on Tuesday. “And I’ve got a lot of friends; that’s a good thing.

“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. But we’ll look forward to getting there on Thursday, practicing some, and then we’ll have a lot better idea of what our strategy will be and what kind of car we’ll have and what kind of — how aggressive I can be or how conservative I’ll have to be throughout the night.”

Ragan won his first career Cup race under the Roush Fenway Racing banner. He looks back with fondness at that breakthrough triumph, as well as his return to Daytona for this weekend’s Coke Zero 400, just two years removed from his first win.

“Daytona is a special place to me and my family,” Ragan said. “Obviously, the first-ever Daytona 500 you always remember. Daytona is a special place in general, but certainly having been to victory lane there makes it extra special. 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.

“So I always have a lot of fond memories of Daytona; Speedweeks in February, certainly the July race.  And I’ll have those same feelings and emotions, I’m sure, when I drive through the tunnel the first time this week.”

The 2011 win at Daytona wasn’t Ragan’s first taste of success at the 2.5-mile high-banked superspeedway. He literally took the place like a duck to water in his first-ever start in the Daytona 500 there in 2007.

“(It was) the start of my rookie season in ’07, and we go to Daytona and we finish fifth in the 500, and that was when I felt like, ‘Man, this is the Daytona 500, we got a top 5, we maybe had a shot to win,'” Ragan said. “But I didn’t even realize what I was doing really. You look back at it, six months down the road and a year down the road, and you realize how special of a day that was.

“But the ’07 500 is probably the first time in a Sprint Cup car that I felt like, man, this is where I need to be.  I feel comfortable, and I was at ease after that race knowing that I could compete with the best.”

But with the success Ragan has had at Daytona also comes the trouble he’s endured. In the three races following his triumph there, he’s been involved in wrecks, mostly caught up in other drivers’ mistakes.

As a result, he went from finishing first in summer 2011 to finishing 43rd, 26th and 35th in the subsequent appearances at DIS.

“There’s a lot of strategy into being around at the end of these speedway races, and there’s different strategies for different teams, different manufacturers, depending on what your strong suits are, what your weaknesses are,” Ragan said. “We just got out of a meeting talking about what our strategies are for the weekend, and some of the things that we look at is the Daytona race in July is a lot different than the 500-mile race in February.  The temperature, obviously the distance, 100 miles less, and the racing is a little different.

“I was wrecked in 2012 on the first lap of the Daytona 500, and I believe the summer race of 2012 I was wrecked in the last five laps. So you look at both of those races and think about what you did right and what you did wrong. All I can say is a lot of it is a gut decision. In my opinion 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.”

It’s rare enough for some drivers to win one restrictor plate track, but to win one each at both tracks is a significant accomplishment. Even though Daytona and Talladega are the only restrictor plate tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, and despite the fact they’re two of the longest tracks as well, Ragan said there’s a night and day difference between the two.

“The races are really different at Daytona and Talladega,” he said. “Obviously the size of the track, the width of the track is different. Both are 500-mile races (but at Talladega) it’s a lot easier to pass. It’s wider so you can maneuver. Handling doesn’t matter as much, so you can take two tires, you can take no tires very often and you’re still fine.

“But Daytona is opposite, and 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.’ I think that’s the only thing that we can really take.”

Wehrlein, Ghiotto, Rosenqvist, Carlin trio headline new entries for GP2 testing

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Testing rolls on this week at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. However, following today’s one-day Pirelli tire test for the Formula 1 teams and drivers, action will shift to the GP2 Series for the next three days.

Mercedes reserve driver and past DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein (PREMA Racing), FIA Formula 3 European champion Felix Rosenqvist (Status Grand Prix, then PREMA), GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto (Trident) and Carlin’s trio of Dean Stoneman, Richie Stanaway and Antonio Giovinazzi are among the notable drivers added to the testing list this week.

Carlin team boss Trevor Carlin noted the desire for his team to improve following a mostly tough 2015:

“We’re keen to get strong preparations for 2016 underway after a somewhat disappointing season,” he said. “We know we have three very talented drivers with us this week and the aim is to work on the progress we’ve made in the last few races with Dean and continue that with the experienced feedback of Richie.

“We’re delighted to give Antonio this opportunity; he has been a great asset to the team over the last two seasons and we’re excited to see him in a GP2 car for the first time this week.”

The full list of drivers and teams testing for the first day can be found here, via the GP2 official website.

On #GivingTuesday, James Hinchcliffe asks to check out Trauma Pit Crew story

James Hinchcliffe
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The unsung heroes of this and any Verizon IndyCar Series season are, without question, the safety crews.

It’s rare to find anything within the INDYCAR paddock that enjoys near universal approval and a positive rating, but in the Holmatro Safety Team, the appreciation cannot be ignore.

The Holmatro Safety Team’s efforts on-site at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help save James Hinchcliffe’s life after his accident in practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 were miraculous.

Hinchcliffe posted a video message on Instagram today (linked below) that asks viewers/readers to check out the story of the Trauma Pit Crew – the staff who took care of him after the Holmatro Safety Team’s efforts.

Hinchcliffe arrived at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where IU Health Trauma Surgeon Tim Pohlman, MD and his team set to work – the Trauma Pit Crew site.

He didn’t remember the details of the accident (recorded at a staggering 126 G’s), which they consider a blessing.

The blog from the IU Methodist website quotes Hinchcliffe as saying, “I received world class care. But more important than that, every single person from nurses to surgeons to all other staff could not have been nicer. After my care, I considered faking an illness so I could go back to see them!”

The Trauma Pit Crew website itself, however, reveals even more details about the team.

We’d share elements of the Trauma Pit Crew page, but it’s probably going to be more powerful – and more meaningful – to read the story in full directly on that website. It’s well worth your time.

Report: Harvey seeking to get IndyCar program sorted by Christmas

Photo: Indy Lights
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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As noted on Monday, there hasn’t been much movement in the Verizon IndyCar Series driver market for 2016, and the available seats left out there are exactly the same ones (in theory, anyway) as they were this time 12 months ago.

And if Jack Harvey can get his program sorted, arguably the most intriguing of those remaining seats – the second seat alongside James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – could go away itself.

Harvey, who has been working to gather the necessary budget since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September to graduate into IndyCar, has said he’s close for the better part of a month.

In early November, Harvey told The Linc in the U.K. there was an 80 percent chance he’d be in IndyCar next season.

He’s now expanded on those hopes in an interview with Autosport’s Marcus Simmons, renowned in U.K. circles as one of the leading journalists in discovering young open-wheel talent.

“The sooner the better,” Harvey told Simmons. “If we could be in before Christmas it would be better for me and the team, so we’re trying to work towards that.

“But we want to make the best deal, not just rush one – our foot’s in the door and it’s time to push the whole body through.”

He “graduates” from the Racing Steps Foundation this year; the RSF has been an instrumental part of Harvey’s upbringing.

Realistically, SPM makes the most sense for Harvey to graduate with. He’s been with SPM’s Indy Lights program the last two years, where he bagged seven wins, finished on the podium in 60 percent of his starts and finished second each of the last two years.

And frankly, he’s due for the opportunity. You can say “oh, he didn’t win a title” – but consider the list of Indy Lights non-champions in the current IndyCar field, a list that includes race winners Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz among others – and he’d be more than fine to fit in.

Plus, with Spencer Pigot already confirmed for at least a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with hopes of more, it would be nice to see the two protagonists from this year’s Indy Lights battle continue their rivalry at the next level.

Vandoorne, McLaren lead Abu Dhabi’s single day of Pirelli tire testing

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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It was only a test, two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, but it’s still nice to write as the 2015 Formula 1 season officially draws to a close: A McLaren Honda was fastest.

GP2 Series champion Stoffel Vandoorne resumed aboard the McLaren MP4-30 Honda chassis and compared to a year ago, when he barely made more than an installation lap in the post-Abu Dhabi test, ended 2015 on top of the timesheets – albeit with times not really the focus in what was a Pirelli tire test of various configurations for the new “ultrasoft” compound.

“We had one shot when it came to testing tires for next season, and we can be satisfied by what we’ve achieved in this test, even if we have to fully analyze the data,” Pirelli’s Paul Hembery said, via Autosport.

The “ultrasoft” compound, marked with a purple stripe, could further the delta between Pirelli’s prime and option tires in 2016. There’s only been a step of one compound between primes and options between the four 2015 compounds: supersoft, soft, medium and hard.

As it was, Vandoorne’s best time of 1:44.103 was 0.353 clear of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, who ended his season on the podium with third place on Sunday.

American Alexander Rossi, who finished second to Vandoorne in GP2 this season, poked fun at Vandoorne ending P1 on Twitter.

Other 2015 regular season drivers who tested included Raikkonen’s teammate Sebastian Vettel, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat (although Kvyat didn’t turn a lap), Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Fellow young guns – Mercedes’ Pascal Wehrlein, Lotus’ Jolyon Palmer, Sauber’s Adderly Fong, Force India’s Alfonso Celis Jr. and Manor’s Jordan King and Rio Haryanto – also ran during the private test session.

Here are the unofficial times below, via McLaren’s Twitter account: