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.”

Fast Facts: IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen

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Photo: IndyCar
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Courtesy of the INDYCAR PR staff, here’s this week’s Fast Facts ahead of the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen, the second-to-last race weekend of the season. See below:

INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday Sept. 2 – Sunday, Sept. 4
Track: Watkins Glen International, an 11-turn, 3.37-mile road course in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Race distance: 60 laps / 202.2 miles
Entry List: INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (PDF)
Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for 20 seconds each
Firestone tire allotment: Eight sets primary, three sets alternate
Twitter: @WGI @IndyCar, #INDYCARGP, #IndyCar
Event website: www.theglen.com
INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com
2010 race winner (most recent event): Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara-Honda)
2010 Verizon P1 Award winner (most recent event): Will Power (12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara-Honda), 1 minute, 29.3164 seconds, 135.832 mph
Qualifying record: Ryan Briscoe, 1:28.1322, 137.657 mph, July 4, 2009

NBCSN television broadcasts: Practice, 11 a.m. ET Friday, Sept. 2 (live); Qualifying, 6 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 3 (taped); Race, 2 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 4 (live); Kevin Lee is the lead announcer for the Saturday and Sunday NBCSN broadcasts this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller. Jake Query fills in for Lee as lead announcer for Friday’s live practice show.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Zach Veach. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Dave Furst, Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on  IndyCar.com,indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: Friday afternoon’s practice session (3:30 p.m. ET), Saturday morning’s practice (11 a.m. ET), qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (3 p.m. ET Saturday) andSunday’s final practice (10:30 a.m. ET) will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, Sept. 2
11 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, NBCSN (Live)
3:30-5:30 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, Sept. 3
11 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying),RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live); TV: NBCSN (Taped, 6 p.m.)

Sunday, Sept. 4
10:30 – 11 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:55 p.m. – Driver Introductions
2:30 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
2:37 p.m. – INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (60 laps/202.2 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Championship facts:

•  Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with two races to go for the first time in his career.

•  Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 28 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix. With 54 maximum points available at Texas, the points lead could change for the second time in 2015.

•  There are nine drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz. Any driver who trails the points leader by 104 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.

•  Six drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Texas Motor Speedway on Aug. 27 – Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin.

• Since the first Indy car race at Watkins Glen in 1979, the winning driver has won the championship once – Rick Mears in 1981.

Key championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with two races to go has failed to win the championship in six of the last nine seasons. Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2011 and Will Power in 2014 are the exceptions.

Point differential: The 28 points which separate Simon Pagenaud and Will Power is the fourth-largest  margin with two races remaining since 2010. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who trailed Power by 36 points with two races remaining in 2012, and Scott Dixon, who was 34 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya last year, have overcome a larger deficit. The average deficit with two races to go since 2007 is 20.67 points.

Championship-eligible drivers’ results at Watkins Glen: Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon are the only championship-eligible drivers to have raced an Indy car at Watkins Glen International. Dixon and Power are former race winners at The Glen with Dixon winning three in a row from 2005-2007 and Power winning in 2010. Kanaan’s best finish is second and he has a pair of podium finishes. Castroneves has won three pole positions at the track, but has never finished better than fourth in six starts.

Race notes:

•  There have been eight different winners in the 14 previous Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2016: Juan Pablo Montoya (Streets of St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix International Raceway), Simon Pagenaud (Streets of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park, Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Raceway at Belle Isle-1), Will Power (Raceway at Belle Isle-2, Road America, Toronto and Pocono), Josef Newgarden (Iowa Speedway) and Graham Rahal (Texas Motor Speedway). Dixon’s win at Phoenix on April 2 tied him for fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with Al Unser at 39. He is the active leader in wins. Bourdais’ win at Belle Isle on June 4 tied him with Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time list with 35 wins. Power’s win at Pocono on Aug. 22 tied him with Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves for 11th all-time with 29.

•  The INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen will be the 10th Indy car race at Watkins Glen International. Will Power won the last Verizon IndyCar Series race at the track in 2010. Bobby Unser won the first Indy car race at The Glen in 1979.

•  Scott Dixon is the winningest Indy car driver at Watkins Glen with three victories (2005, 2006 and 2007). Bobby Unser won at Pocono twice. Past winners Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008) and Will Power (2010) are entered this year.

•  Will Power is the only driver to win the race from the pole in 2010.

•  Team Penske has won four times at Watkins Glen. Penske’s winning drivers are: Bobby Unser (1979 and 1980), Rick Mears (1981) and Will Power (2010).

•  Chip Ganassi Racing has three wins at Watkins Glen, all by Scott Dixon from 2005-2007.

•  Scott Dixon has finished on the podium in four of his six starts at Watkins Glen, including his three wins. Tony Kanaan has a pair of podium finishes in his six starts, including a second-place finish in 2005. Marco Andretti has finished in the top five in three of five starts.

•  Eight drivers entered in the event have competed in past Indy car races at Watkins Glen: Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan each have six starts, most among the entered drivers. Six of those drivers have led laps at the track (Dixon 68, Castroneves 50, Power 45, Andretti 11, Kanaan 11 and Hunter-Reay 9). Dixon has led in five of his six previous starts.

•  Five rookies – Max Chilton, Conor Daly, RC Enerson, Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi – are entered. Rossi leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 83 points over Daly, with Chilton 127 points behind.

•  Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 264th consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Teammate Scott Dixon has made 205 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the third-longest streak in Indy car racing.

•  Helio Castroneves will attempt to make his 326th career Indy car start, which ranks fourth on the all-time list. Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 325rd Indy car start, which is fifth all-time.

•  Ryan Hunter-Reay will attempt to make his 200th career Indy car start at Watkins Glen. He would become the 20th driver to reach that milestone.

•  The 2016 season is the second in which aerodynamic bodywork component kits are used. The aero kits, produced by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda for their respective supplied teams, are the latest technical innovation to enhance on-track performance through competitive aerodynamic development. Each manufacturer produces two kits for teams – one for short ovals/road courses/street courses and another for superspeedway ovals – but within each kit, teams have multiple component options available.

•  The second season of aero kit competition complements the fifth year of engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda with their 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines. It will be another season testing speed and durability to determine the manufacturer champion.

Simon Pagenaud puts his French chef skills to the test

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(Photos courtesy Sonoma Raceway)
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Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud is a Renaissance man of sorts.

Not only is he an outstanding race car driver, he’s also a well-known food and wine connoisseur.

Pagenaud and Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Dana Vollmer put their culinary skills to the test Monday when they took food preparation lessons from two of the top chefs in the Bay Area.

Pagenaud was in town to promote the season-ending Verizon IndyCar Series race, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 18. Vollmer, who is coming off her third consecutive Summer Olympics and is a seven-time medalist (including five golds), was Pagenaud’s cooking partner.

The duo visited the renowned Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland and took lessons from award-winning chefs Tanya Holland and Victor Scargle.

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From left, chef Tanya Holland, Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer, chef Victor Scargle and IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud took the stove to prepare a longtime family recipe passed down by his grandmother: bistro beef tenderloin wrapped in pork belly with French green beans and charred tomatoes.

“This was a really fun event,” Pagenaud said in a media release. “We get to do a lot of fun things as IndyCar drivers, but to come and cook with Tanya and Victor was really something special.

“It felt really good to make something that reminded me of my hometown, and now I can tell my grandma I have some adjustments for one of her recipes.”

Vollmer, who follows a gluten- and egg-free diet, prepared handmade corn tortillas for lamb tacos, as well as a red quinoa salad with figs and apples.

Pagenaud has won four races and has earned nine top-fives this season, and hopes to hold on to his points lead in the final two races to win the 2016 IndyCar championship.

Vollmer, meanwhile, had an exceptional performance at the recently completed Rio Games. She was on the Gold Medal-winning 4x100m Medley Relay team and the Silver Medal 4×100 Free Relay, which broke the American record. She also won the Bronze Medal in individual 100m Butterfly.

“It was so fun to meet Simon and cook with him,” said Vollmer, who became the first American mother to win a swimming Gold Medal. “I loved the dishes I made and can’t wait to try them at home.

“Eating healthy and clean is really important for me. When I’m training, I can feel the difference after I put good food in my body, and now, with my son (born last year), it’s even more important because he eats what I eat.”

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Travis Pastrana back for Race of Champions in Miami

LONDON - DECEMBER 16:  Travis Pastrana of the USA in action during the Race of Champions at Wembley Stadium on December 16, 2007 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
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Action sports legend and Race of Champions veteran Travis Pastrana will be back in action at next year’s Race of Champions in Miami, to be held January 2017. It will be his eighth appearance in the event.

He’s the fourth announced driver, joining fellow Americans Ryan Hunter-Reay and Kurt Busch, and four-time Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel. Those three were announced with the race itself earlier this month.

“The greatest part about the Race Of Champions is that you take all these legends and the best in the world from Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR and put them all together, but not necessarily in their speciality,” Pastrana said in an RoC release.

“Anybody can win at any time. I took two wins against Sebastian Vettel, who was the Formula 1 champion at the time – in his home country Germany – in a Porsche and an Aston Martin. Then he beats me in Beijing in a rally car, which should have been my speciality. Everyone always has a shot because there are so many vehicles that no one’s ever driven or had experience in, so everyone makes a lot of mistakes.”

“The Race Of Champions is amazing and the atmosphere’s awesome. It’s usually after the season’s over or before the new one starts so the shenanigans going on in the hotel are pretty ridiculous. Some of the best memories of my life have been with these drivers at ROC. Everyone’s super competitive but it’s just about going out there and having fun. So I’m coming back to the Race Of Champions in Miami with a big smile on my face. Game on…”

Next batch of Indy Lights drivers set to test at Sonoma

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From L to R: Negrao, Urrutia and Veach have their first IndyCar tests. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Zach Veach, Santiago Urrutia and Andre Negrao are the next three Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers who will have a chance to make their maiden IndyCar tests this year as part of an Indy Lights Driver Test day.

Belardi Auto Racing’s Veach will score a long-awaited first test in one of Ed Carpenter Racing’s Chevrolets (is listed in Josef Newgarden’s car), while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian teammates Urrutia and Negrao are set to share James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin’s Hondas, respectively.

Veach told NBC Sports of the opportunity he “feels like a kid the night before Christmas,” while the SPM twins make a natural step up.

The test occurs September 8 at Sonoma Raceway, in preparation for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale there September 18.

Meanwhile the three of them will complete their running at Sonoma and then head south to Monterey, where the Indy Lights finale takes place as part of an all-Mazda weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Urrutia currently leads that championship heading into the penultimate round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from Sept. 9-11. The Uruguayan seeks his second straight title on the Mazda Road to Indy after winning the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last year.

They also join this list of Indy Lights drivers or graduates, who’ve tested an IndyCar this year:

  • Jack Harvey (2015), Zachary Claman De Melo, SPM, Mid-Ohio
  • Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Mid-Ohio
  • RC Enerson, Dale Coyne Racing, Mid-Ohio (debuted for race team the next week)
  • Ed Jones, RLL Racing, Watkins Glen
  • Dean Stoneman, Dalton Kellett, Shelby Blackstock, Andretti Autosport, Watkins Glen
  • Santiago Urrutia, Andre Negrao, SPM, Sonoma
  • Zach Veach, ECR, Sonoma

It leaves only Felix Serralles, Kyle Kaiser and Neil Alberico as the only full-season drivers in Indy Lights this year who have not had a run in an IndyCar as yet.