David Ragan celebrates his win two months ago at Talladega.

Excited about NASCAR’s Chase changes, Ragan looks for more David vs. Goliath success in 2014

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Ever since he became a full-time Sprint Cup driver in 2007 at the age of 21, David Ragan’s performance has been kind of stuck in neutral – not by choice, mind you.

But for whatever reason – with the exception of a career-best 13th-place finish with Roush Fenway Racing in 2008 – Ragan has finished consistently between 23rd and 28th in the other six of his seven Sprint Cup seasons.

That’s hopefully going to change in 2014. After winning at Talladega last spring (Ragan’s second career Sprint Cup win), being pushed to the finish line by Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland, it gave the entire team a David definitely can beat Goliath kind of confidence.

And if 2014 goes the way Ragan hopes, there’ll be a lot more giant killing to do during the 36-race Sprint Cup season.

“That was a big day for our team and me and David (Gilliland) personally,” Ragan said recently. “A 1-2 finish was something to be proud about. It was an opportunity for us to continue to build our brand.

“Definitely, a lot of good things came from that. It gives our guys motivation that if we all execute the plan we have, that we can win another one if the stars align right and if we put ourselves in the right position. We can’t win races running 20th or 25th, but if we can get to that top 10 or top five, we can win a race. We can win some this year at several different tracks. You’ve got to win one before you win two and before you win three.”

The Unadilla, Ga., native has seen a completely different side of the Sprint Cup world since joining Front Row in 2012 after his contract was not renewed by Roush Fenway when enough sponsorship couldn’t be found.

After five seasons with one of Sprint Cup’s premier teams, signing up with Front Row kind of brought Ragan back to his roots of working with smaller teams before he got his big break with Roush in 2005.

“I’ve kind of matured and opened my eyes up a little bit,” Ragan said. “I was a young guy, 19 years old, when I started at Roush. You come in and it’s a fast-paced world, I’m running Nationwide races and Cup races and traveling to 30-40 sponsor appearances a year.

“You don’t really see the big picture. You have tunnel vision, where you see what you’re doing that given time. That makes it tough and it was tough for me to learn at a young age, so coming to Front Row, a little smaller organization and not as many commitments outside of the race track, you do get a chance to step back and see what’s important in the real world.

“Definitely, my profession and career as a race car driver, I want to be successful and win races, but it’s also important to have a good family, your friends, your loved ones, spend some time with your old grandparents and things. You kind of see what’s going on. That’s probably the difference in between 19 years old and 28 years old.”

Had NASCAR expanded the field of the Chase for the Sprint Cup from 12 to 16 last season, Ragan would have made the 10-race playoffs by virtue of his Talladega win. Even though he didn’t make the Chase, Ragan believes there’s plenty of carryover from last season that can serve as motivation for his efforts in 2014.

“The opportunity to have a few more guys in the Chase is great,” Ragan said. “I think the way it’s going to happen, when you have teams being eliminated from the actual championship contention, that’s a good format, in my opinion.

“To have a Front Row Motorsports capable to make the Chase, you have to step your game up. You’re not going to be able to goof off for nine races and win the championship. You’re going to have to be competitive every single race and win some races throughout the year. Winning is all we want to do, it’s what the fans want to see and I think NASCAR has given us what everybody wants to see.”

Ragan comes from a racing family, one with roots that date back to the earliest days of NASCAR, when his grandfather competed on the beaches of Daytona. Ragan’s father, Ken, competed in 50 career Cup races from 1983 to 1990.

And now third-generation David is carrying on the family tradition. Even though he considers himself an old school racer, Ragan likes the changes NASCAR has made to the Chase, particularly the incentive and excitement that comes with it, and the ability to create a scenario that will mean greater excitement, bigger TV ratings and attract new fans to the sport.

“I guarantee you that whoever wins the Daytona 500, one of their first thoughts is that ‘I’m going to be in the Chase at Chicagoland,'” Ragan said. “It gives me chill bumps about (possibly making the Chase). I’m excited, and I couldn’t be more of a traditional fan.

“My grandfather and family was entering NASCAR races back in the late 1940s, so we’ve been around this sport for a long time. I love all forms of auto racing. I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming season. I think we have to continue to evolve our sport based on the fans that we have in the world, and based on the world as it changes.

“You look at other sports and they’re consistently making small changes and tweaks. The fundamental parts are always going to be there: You’re going to have 43 cars, you have to go and race and the best guy is going to win.

“It is a game changer and is something that in a positive way can be a great thing for our sport. We all live on instant news, we want every football game to come a time-expired field goal being kicked, or a baseball game in the bottom of the ninth and the team from behind and win, or the 2007 Red Sox, where they came back from an 0-3 deficit. That’s the stuff you always remember, and this is kind of setting it up to have those kinds of finishes.”

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Here’s a flashback to Ragan’s win last April at Talladega:

WATCH LIVE: Indy Carb Day on NBCSN at 11 a.m. ET

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INDIANAPOLIS – Five and a half hours of live coverage await today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBCSN, with Carb Day coverage. It’s also live streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra for participating providers at this link.

It starts live at 11 a.m. ET and goes through to 3:30 p.m. ET, prior to the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special. The latter show also has the same stream link via Live Extra.

The coverage includes the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Carb Day practice in advance of the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, leading straight into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 after noon (12:30 p.m. green flag), and the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m.

Kevin Lee will lead NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage, filling in for Leigh Diffey who will be in Monaco, with Paul Bell and Robin Miller in the pits. Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, and Katie Hargitt will handle the pits.

Townsend Bell will also be on and available intermittently following his practice in the morning, driving his No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda for Andretti Autosport. He starts fourth for Sunday’s race.

Following the five and a half hours of Carb Day coverage, NBCSN will also have the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special, featuring live updates on site from Monaco (F1), Indianapolis (IndyCar) and Charlotte (NASCAR).

From Indianapolis, Marty Snider, Townsend Bell, and Ray Evernham co-host coverage.

New Tatuus USF-17 chassis revealed

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Photo: Andersen Promotions
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INDIANAPOLIS – More to follow but the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, the new car for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the Mazda Road to Indy, was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The full release is below:

The latest generation of chassis that will form the basis for the first two steps on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel racing development ladder – which offers Mazda scholarships to allow racers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series – was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway during the lead up to the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.

The new Tatuus USF-17 will be the series’ standard for at least the next five years, and features a state-of-the-art carbon fiber monocoque chassis to meet the latest FIA safety standards as well as the proven 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine and Cooper racing tires. It will replace the stalwart Van Diemen/Elan tube-frame car which has provided the backbone of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda since 1999.

The USF-17 is based upon the same FIA-approved Formula 4 T-014 design which is utilized in the Italian and North European Zone F4 series, as well as the new-for-2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship. Significant enhancements include the provision of a PFC four piston brake package, Cosworth Omega L2 Plus data system with Cosworth CFW 277 steering wheel (complete with integrated dash and gear change paddles) and a Magneti Marelli electronic gearshift system, forged aluminum American Racing Technomesh wheels and stainless steel exhaust headers.

Unique USF2000 sidepods, engine cover, front and rear wing end plates, nose cone and front cover combine to form an aero package that includes carbon composite wings with adjustable twin-element rear wing and a carbon composite diffuser. The rolling chassis is priced at $51,800, which is significantly less than the current USF2000 car.

“Today marks yet another great moment for the Mazda Road to Indy as we take another step forward into a bright future with the new Tatuus USF-17,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have watched Tatuus work with my staff and our partners on this project over the last six months, and I am convinced we made the right choice on this new car. They listened to what I wanted in a race car and delivered a beautiful, technologically advanced and, I believe, fast racecar. I have to thank Project Manager Scot Elkins, who has shepherded this project from its inception.”

The prototype USF-17 car will undergo a rigorous test and development program over the course of the next six weeks at four different race tracks in North America, after which the final specifications will be fixed. Mazda sports car talent and USF2000 steward/driver coach Joel Miller will handle the bulk of the testing duties.

Delivery of the first batch of 15 cars – all of which have already been sold – is set for September, with an initial two-day series test slated for late October. A second batch of 15 cars is scheduled for delivery in December. A second series open test will take place in January of 2017.

The winner of next year’s USF2000 championship – the first to be run with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17– will receive a Mazda scholarship to assist in graduation to the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, which will see the debut of another brand-new car featuring the same chassis along with an updated Mazda engine, enhanced aerodynamics and wider Cooper Tires.

“We talk a lot about the Mazda Road to Indy as the finest and most comprehensive driver development ladder in the world,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “The unveiling of the USF-17 today is the next step for Andersen Promotions to continue to improve the safety, performance and value of each series. We can’t wait to see the USF-17 racing next season and then the new Pro Mazda chassis to follow in 2018. To go along with the sleek Indy Lights IL-15 chassis, we will have the finest lineup of race cars anywhere.”

Interest in the USF-17 has been high. The September shipment of 15 cars has been sold as well as half of the second shipment in December. They will be delivered to 12 different teams, nine of which are new to the series.

“For me and for all of the people working at Tatuus, this is a fantastic day,” said Gianfranco De Bellis, Tatuus Race Cars Director. “I have great memories from my first experience with Dan Andersen 20 years ago in America. Our commitment and wish was to build the best car possible. I hope this will be appreciated by all the teams and something that we will all be proud of. I want to thank Scot and everyone involved in this project. We will look forward to seeing the car on track to be sure that it is not only a beautiful dream, but a reality.”

Testing will begin in June at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Ky., followed by dates at Barber Motorsports Park, Road America and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Media are invited to attend the Road America test on June 27, which takes place the day after the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy race weekend.

Dennis: Michael Schumacher agreed to leave Ferrari for McLaren

2 Jul 2000:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari struggles to hold off David Coulthard of Great Britain and McLaren-Mercedes during the French Formula One Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in France.  Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason /Allsport
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McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis has revealed that Michael Schumacher provisionally agreed to leave Ferrari for the British team in the late 1990s.

McLaren is celebrating 50 years of racing in Monaco this weekend, with Dennis having headed up its Formula 1 interests since 1981.

In an interview with the official F1 website, Dennis reflected on the drivers he had worked with at McLaren and those who he had missed out on signing.

Schumacher joined Ferrari from Benetton in 1996 after winning his first two world championships, and would go on to win five in a row between 2000 and 2004 with the Italian marque.

However, history could have been very different had he joined McLaren as he provisionally agreed to with Dennis at one point, setting up a partnership with fierce rival Mika Hakkinen.

“When he was already driving for Ferrari, Michael and I agreed for him to drive for McLaren,” Dennis said.

“Our meeting took place not during the grand prix weekend; no, we met secretly at a Monaco hotel at another time.

“But in the end it did not work out because his management insisted on controlling his image rights – they basically wanted to retain them all, plus get paid a lot of money of course.

“That was disappointing. I think Mika and Michael would have been a truly fabulous driver line-up.”

Schumacher remained with Ferrari until the end of 2006 when he announced his retirement from F1, only to return with Mercedes in 2010, racing for another three seasons.

Schumacher remains in rehabilitation after sustaining head injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013.

Lauda expects Rosberg to sign new Mercedes contract in next three weeks

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda expects Nico Rosberg to sign a new contract with the German marque in the next three weeks.

Rosberg currently leads the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by 39 points after winning four of the first five races of the 2016 season.

Rosberg’s contract with Mercedes is up at the end of the season, having last signed a deal back in 2014, and is yet to agree to an extension.

Reports in Italy claimed that Rosberg could be an option for Ferrari for 2017 in place of Kimi Raikkonen, but Lauda fully expects the German to continue his relationship with Mercedes.

“I’m sure we want to keep Nico, and Nico wants to stay,” Lauda told Sky Sports.

“I don’t see any issues at all. This will be fixed very soon.

“We have to decide it in the next three weeks. This is my point of view, to let him know that we all stick together for the next couple of years.”

Teammate Lewis Hamilton is locked in with Mercedes for the foreseeable future after announcing a new contract at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Team boss Toto Wolff hinted over the off-season that a change in line-up may be required if tension between Hamilton and Rosberg boiled over.

However, with Rosberg in the form of his life, it seems unlikely that a switch will come in the near future – relying he wants to extend his seven-season stint with Mercedes.