David Ragan celebrates his win two months ago at Talladega.

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

Leave a comment

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.”

Kvyat: Current F1 struggles feel ‘never ending’

Leave a comment

Daniil Kvyat made no secret of his frustration after qualifying a lowly 19th for the German Grand Prix on Saturday, continuing his disappointing run of form.

Since being demoted to a seat at Toro Rosso from parent team Red Bull for the Spanish Grand Prix, Kvyat has scored just two points, struggling to match the pace of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.

Kvyat’s return to Toro Rosso was facilitated following two crashes in the Russian Grand Prix, leading to questions about how he was handling the pressure of racing for Red Bull.

Kvyat cast a despondent figure after qualifying, having asked his team over the radio after the session: “What the f*** is going on?”, venting his frustration.

“Little bit of a crazy lap, with many mistakes,” Kvyat said of his qualifying lap.

”I don’t feel great. It’s not a good period for me and it seems like it’s never-ending now. I’m trying every weekend, but nothing is working so far.

“It’s not like I’m having the most pleasant time in the world, it’s not easy but it’s not an excuse.”

Kvyat told TV reporters after the session that he needed to go away and refocus over the summer break following Hockenheim, but said that his real issue lies with the STR11 car.

“I don’t know what I need, I don’t know. I just need that feeling from the car. If it comes back I should be much better,” Kvyat said.

“I don’t know what’s going on. It seems like my window of working is very narrow, I need to work on expanding it, but it’s not easy.

“I feel like solutions are not far away, even if it looks really bad on paper. We had a good Friday yesterday for the first time in a while.

“Tomorrow is the race, we need to try to fight our way back. The pace was not bad on Friday in the long runs.

“I have not much to lose anyway, so I’ll just try to go for it tomorrow.”

Kvyat’s future with Toro Rosso looks increasingly uncertain after the recent upturn in form of Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost previously said he wanted to keep Kvyat for 2017, but with Gasly winning two GP2 races in the past three weeks and completing a tire test for Red Bull, he looks more and more likely to become Sainz’s teammate next season.

Acura working toward NSX homologation; team timeframe TBD

IMG_2166
Photo: Tony DiZinno
Leave a comment

LEXINGTON, Ohio – This weekend’s been an important one for Acura and Honda, with the new Acura NSX GT3 turning its first public laps during Thursday’s Pirelli World Challenge test session, although plans for it to run in practice on Friday were scrubbed owing to heavy rains that canceled the session.

Inevitably though while the public debut is nice, the next steps for the NSX GT3 are determining – officially – the series in which it will compete and the teams with which will campaign it across the global spectrum of sports car racing.

Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr and NSX project leader Lee Niffenegger outlined more details about the NSX today in a brief media availability.

“We have some further private tests planned coming up in the next few weeks. We have FIA homologation testing coming up in September (at Ledoux in France) that’s a fixed week every year,” Niffenegger said. “So between now and then we have several different types of tests as well as on‑track tests.”

Niffenegger expanded a bit on the homologation process.

“Homologation, for those of you not familiar, there’s a dynamic test where they measure downforce, horsepower. Basically they set the basic vehicle parameters,” he explained.

“But there also can be a long process of documentation and inspection that takes place. Even though you go to a test in September, it can be one, two, three months, depending on what the FIA is looking for as far as documentation, any things they want you to change on the car for safety, could be anything.”

While the car is anticipated to run in both of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge, St. Cyr declined to confirm either of those details today.

“We don’t have a specific timeframe when we’re going to do that,” St. Cyr said. “Obviously we’re evaluating the different series it’s legal to run this car in.

“As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of interest in running this car. We’re evaluating that. It’s pretty much an independent schedule for homologation. We will decide the teams. We want to get them as soon as possible, right, to start testing the car and start running the car.

“Pretty much as soon as possible for us is when we want to start announcing our teams on that. But I don’t have a solid date for that.

“We don’t have a fixed deadline, By this date we’re going to have a team. When we’ve checked all the boxes, that’s when we’ll announce the teams.”

Niffenegger added, “I don’t think it’s necessarily involved with homologation.”

Michael Shank Racing has been rumored as a possible team to campaign the NSX GT3, and Shank, who’s a Columbus local and whose shop is based in nearby Pataskala, Ohio, has been on site this weekend to survey and view the car.

RealTime Racing has housed the test NSX GT3 this weekend and while it would seem to be a strong candidate to race the car next year, it has not been formally confirmed.

Testing has occurred for the car at at least four U.S. circuits besides Mid-Ohio but this weekend marked its formal public debut. No further public tests are planned for the rest of this year, but they haven’t been ruled out entirely.

Ricciardo: Red Bull gaining ground on Mercedes

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30:  Top three qualifiers Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing in parc ferme after qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Daniel Ricciardo believes that Red Bull is gaining ground on Mercedes at the front of the pack in Formula 1 after locking out the second row of the grid for the third race in a row on Saturday in Germany.

Ricciardo and teammate Max Verstappen qualified third and fourth respectively at Hockenheim, finishing four-tenths of a second off pole-sitter Nico Rosberg.

“In Q3 I knew I had to find some more time and I put a really good lap together in the first run,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“Then I knew there wasn’t much more for the second run so I probably tried a little bit too hard and made a few mistakes, but in the end it was a nice qualifying.

“Third is a good place to start. Hopefully we can look at Mercedes tomorrow and have a good battle with them and not focus on what’s happening behind us.”

Red Bull spent the first half of the season embroiled in a close battle with Ferrari, but now appears to have pulled clear in the battle for second in the F1 pecking order.

“The feeling in the team is very good at the moment,” Ricciardo said.

“In the last three races now both Red Bulls have been in front of Ferrari and it seems like we’re getting a little bit closer to Mercedes.

“Everyone in the team is happy and it’s nice standing here knowing that I’m in the top three. Tomorrow I think we’ll have a good chance.

“The long runs yesterday looked a bit better than they did in Budapest so let’s see. I’ll start the race on slightly older tires because I had to do two laps in Q2, which means they are not as fresh for the start but it’ll be fine.

“I’ll go hard and hopefully get in front and at least lead some of the race.”

Verstappen echoed Ricciardo’s thoughts on the battle at the front, saying that although Red Bull’s main competitor was still Ferrari, Mercedes is in its crosshairs.

“The main target is to be in front of the Ferraris and that is what we have done,” Verstappen said.

“That said, we know they will be quick in the race as we saw last week.

“Mercedes look pretty strong but we are not that far away so I think we can be very happy with that.

“It’s my first time here in a Formula 1 car and not an easy track to learn so I’m really pleased with today. We can both be satisfied to be on the second row as this track wasn’t expected to be the best for us.

“Race pace is looking very good for the moment. We definitely want to be challenging for a podium tomorrow, I think a win might be difficult though.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app on Sunday from 7am ET.

Hulkenberg gets one-place grid penalty for tire mix-up

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany drives the 7 Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nico Hulkenberg has been given a one-place grid penalty for Sunday’s German Grand Prix after a tire mix-up during qualifying at Hockenheim.

Hulkenberg qualified seventh for Force India, but used a set of super-soft tires in Q1 that should have been returned to Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli ahead of the session.

“The team returned electronically the wrong set of tires and used these during Q1,” a short statement from the FIA stewards in Germany read, confirming Hulkenberg’s one-place grid drop.

With the penalty, Hulkenberg will now start eighth in Germany behind Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who finished narrowly behind.

“I’m feeling pretty happy to qualify in seventh for my home race – it’s best of the rest behind the top three teams and a good effort by the whole team,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying.

“Our objective is always to maximize our potential and it feels like we achieved that today. Most of my laps in the session came together nicely and my final effort in Q3 was spot on.

“We can expect a tough fight for good points tomorrow, but we are in a good starting position and we’ve looked strong here in all the sessions. The long run pace is competitive, too, so we’ve got every chance of getting a great result this weekend.

“There is talk of some rain tomorrow and to be honest I would not mind a shower during the race, but let’s wait and see what happens.”

Teammate Sergio Perez qualified ninth on Saturday, reaching Q3 for the first time at Hockenheim.

“It was a fun and very intense fight with Nico and the two Williams cars throughout qualifying, and in the end it was really close between the four of us,” Perez said.

“It was crucial to get through Q1 on one set of tires because some other teams had to use two sets and this gave us a small advantage in Q2, which helped us make the top ten.

“On my last lap of Q3 I struggled a bit through some of the right-hand corners; I think I may have picked something up on my front wing – maybe some debris – and that cost me some time, but it’s something I will analyze with the team.

“In the end, it was so close and just a few hundredths of a second made the difference. Tomorrow is going to be interesting.

“We are starting on the super-softs on which we qualified and we will need to work well as a team to make the strategy work and score some important points.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.