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:

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:

Detroit Grand Prix names new General Manager, Michael Montri

Photo: Detroit Grand Prix
Photo: Detroit Grand Prix
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Michael Montri has been named the new General Manager of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which runs next June 3-5, 2016.

Montri replaces Charles Burns, the former director of INDYCAR security who ran the event from the end of 2012 through the end of November, this year.

Since its return to the calendar in 2012, the Penske-run event has established itself as one of the best-run events on the INDYCAR calendar from an operational and organizational standpoint.

It’s also asserting itself as the lone doubleheader weekend on the INDYCAR calendar, following Toronto’s reduction to one race and the absence of Houston on the schedule.

Montri, as it is, has been within the Penske organization for more than a decade in a variety of roles, starting as a marketing and public relations intern when Penske still ran Michigan International Speedway.

From the Detroit Grand Prix release:

“Since 2002, Montri has worked with Penske Automotive Group (PAG), serving most recently as Vice President of Fleet Operations for Penske Car Rental and as Vice President of Procurement for PAG. For the last several years, Montri has also worked with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix team, providing support leading up to and during race weekend.”

“We are excited to welcome Michael Montri as the General Manager for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix,” said Bud Denker, Chairman of the Grand Prix. “Michael has a strong background in motorsports and he brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and leadership from his time in Detroit with the Penske Corporation companies. He has also worked closely with our Grand Prix staff over the last few events so he is a great fit to lead the team into 2016 and beyond.”

“The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is such a positive and important event for our region and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of leading our Grand Prix team,” said Montri. “I’ve always had a passion for motorsports so this new challenge really represents a return to my roots. Most importantly, the Grand Prix is about giving back to Detroit and, specifically, to Belle Isle. I look forward to working with all the stakeholders involved with the Grand Prix and continuing its mission of revitalizing the jewel within our city – Belle Isle Park.”

As King, Haryanto test, Manor’s venerable chassis MR03B retires at last

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Will Stevens of Great Britain and Manor Marussia drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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The period of transition continues for Manor Marussia F1 Team, as today two of its young potential future stars tested, while its own venerable, workhorse chassis MR03B took its last scheduled laps.

GP2 drivers Jordan King and Rio Haryanto were behind the wheel for today’s running at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Neither was really in it for lap times – best times were only 1:49.593 (Haryanto) and 1:49.661 (King) respectively – but more a chance to go through Pirelli’s designated program and gain further experience in a Formula 1 car.

English driver King completed 59 laps in his first ever outing in a Formula 1 car, while Haryanto, the young Indonesian driver, made 56 laps in his first bit of F1 running since 2012. So this marked his first running in the current generation of machinery, which debuted ahead of the 2014 season.

“It has been quite a while since I last tested a Formula 1 car, with Manor, in fact, in 2012,” Haryanto said. “The cars of today though are quite a lot different, especially in respect of the new engine developments, so it took some time to get used to the changes, especially the engine management. As the morning progressed though I was improving all the time and with no issues I could really get into the program.”

King added of his day, “My first time at the wheel of an F1 car has been an incredible experience and I can’t thank Manor enough for providing me with this opportunity. Today’s Pirelli tire test had a very specific focus and I was determined to make the most of this chance to show my development capability as well as my potential for the future. We had a trouble-free day, so I could really get stuck into the plan, and this enabled me to build my confidence as the afternoon progressed.”

As for the chassis, which was Will Stevens’ race chassis this year, Manor confirmed it has completed more than 20,000 km over its two-year lifespan.

A calculation from veteran F1 journalist Adam Cooper puts that at some 65 race distances!

Manor Marussia F1 Team heads into the winter with former team chiefs Graeme Lowdon (sporting director) and John Booth (team principal) leaving and perhaps pursuing a new adventure, Dave Ryan (racing director) now entering and as the only team on the grid yet to confirm its driver lineup.

American Alexander Rossi is known to be among the contenders for a full-season seat, while Stevens, Haryanto and Mercedes reserve Pascal Wehrlein’s names have also been mentioned as possibilities.