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

Leave a comment

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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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

Sainz frustrated as puncture ends Belgian GP after strong start

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo with a punctured rear tyre during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Carlos Sainz Jr. made no secret of his frustration after a puncture brought his Belgian Grand Prix to an early end while running inside the points.

Toro Rosso arrived in Belgium skeptical of its chances given the advances made by other teams running 2016-spec engines, with the Italian team still using a 2015-spec Ferrari power unit.

Sainz qualified a lowly 15th on Saturday, but a flying start saw him rise up to seventh at the end of the first lap.

However, a tire blow-out while approaching 200 mph on the Kemmel Straight ruined Sainz’s race. A vain attempt to return to the pits only caused more damage to his car, tearing the rear wing off before the Spaniard eventually parked up at the side of the track.

“How frustrating to have to retire from the race because of a puncture!” Sainz said after the race.

“I did one of the best starts of my life and by the end of the first lap I had gained seven positions and was racing in P7.

“But I then went over some debris from other cars at the start of my second lap and the tire ended up exploding after Eau Rouge.

“It definitely wasn’t the best moment of my life, especially after doing such a good start!

“It’s frustrating to have to end the race like this, but I will keep fighting and forget today as quickly as possible.”

Teammate Daniil Kvyat had a quiet race, finishing 14th despite thinking at one point that points may have been within reach.

“We pushed quite hard today and after the red flag there was some hope – at one point it even looked like we could dream of scoring some points,” Kvyat said.

“I think we did a great job with the tires, but we started to struggle with straight-line speed and the deficit was more and more obvious after the second pit-stop.

“It’s a shame, but at least we can say we did our absolute best today. Unfortunately not many people will see this, as we only ended up P14 and out of the points, but it’s not that bad.

“We will have to take our opportunities at tracks that suit us better.”

Vettel: Talks, not penalties, right way to deal with Verstappen

Leave a comment

Sebastian Vettel is keen to have talks with Max Verstappen about his on-track actions during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, believing it to be a better way to handle things than issuing a penalty.

Verstappen clashed with both Vettel and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1 on the first lap of the race, leaving all three drivers with damage.

Verstappen then incurred the wrath of Raikkonen later in the race after forcing him off-track at Les Combes, before moving late when defending his position the next lap on the Kemmel Straight at 200 mph.

Verstappen defended his actions after the race, but Vettel thinks that something needs to be done.

“We talked about moving under braking. Top speed… reaching 340 km/h… and he’s moving,” Vettel told NBCSN after the race.

“It works so long as the car behind plays accordingly and lifts. But if both stick to line, both crash. That’s not what you want to do.

“If you drive like that it won’t end up too well. More than anything it cost us – and him – a lot of time.”

Vettel said it was best that the stewards did not investigate Verstappen’s moves, instead saying that such issues were better dealt by the drivers talking together.

“I don’t like to investigate anything. We’re men; we’re not in kindergarten,” Vettel said.

“If I have a problem with Max I need to go to talk to him. But obviously right after race isn’t the best moment! Leave it to us though.

“If you go beyond the limits you need to talk. In general, I’m not a fan. We’re not here to cry, ‘oh here’s a penalty!’

“Today we could have had a great race. We could have had both cars on the podium but sometimes these things happen.”

Verstappen blames Raikkonen, Vettel for ‘destroying’ Belgian GP at Turn 1

Leave a comment

Max Verstappen has blamed Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel for ending his hopes of a podium finish in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, saying his race was “destroyed” at Turn 1.

The race at Spa-Francorchamps acted as Verstappen’s home event as tens of thousands of fans made the trip over from his native Netherlands, resulting in the circuit’s best raceday attendance in over a decade.

Verstappen made a slow start from second place on the grid, slipping behind Raikkonen on the run down to the first corner.

The Dutchman tried to dive down the inside of Raikkonen at La Source, only for the two to make contact and also tangle with Vettel on the outside.

The collision left Verstappen with damage that forced him to pit at the end of the first lap, taking a new front wing.

However, more severe damage was caused to his floor, costing him over one second per lap for the remainder of the race en route to 11th place at the checkered flag.

“I got squeezed. Kimi wanted to turn in. Sebastian did on both of us,” Verstappen told NBCSN after the race.

“Destroyed my front wing and the whole floor. Fans were so great… but unfortunately was not our day.

“We had a car like you could see to finish on the podium. But when other drivers take that away from you, you’re not happy.

“Today everything got destroyed in Turn 1.”

Verstappen faced the wrath of Raikkonen during the race after some aggressive defensive moves, prompting the Ferrari driver to express his anger over team radio.

Verstappen thought little of the Finn’s comments, though, saying he would have been penalized by the stewards had it been an unfair move.

“I should have got a penalty if it was not correct. So it was fair,” he said.

Raikkonen fumes over Verstappen moves, predicts ‘big accident’

Leave a comment

Kimi Raikkonen predicts that Max Verstappen will cause a “big accident” unless he changes his approach to racing after being left fuming by the Dutchman’s defensive moves during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen and Verstappen were both forced to pit early on after a clash at the first corner, leaving them together on-track once the race went back to green after a short red flag period.

Verstappen forced Raikkonen off-track at Les Combes when defending his position before making another aggressive move along the Kemmel Straight at 200 mph on the next lap.

Raikkonen immediately complained about Verstappen’s moves over team radio to the Ferrari pit wall in an expletive-laden message.

“I’m all up for fair racing and close battles. But when I have to brake after Eau Rouge before Turn 5, at full speed, when he turns in front of me, that’s not correct in my view,” Raikkonen told NBCSN after the race.

“Obviously FIA looks a different way with the stewards.

“There will be a big accident if this doesn’t stop.

“The rest; I’m fine with fighting. But we should not do stupid things.”

Raikkonen eventually got past Verstappen en route to finish ninth for Ferrari. Verstappen struggled in the closing stages of the race with his damaged car, eventually crossing the line 11th.