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:

Sirotkin takes first GP2 win of 2016 in Hungary

2016 GP2 Series Round 6
Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary.
Sunday 24 July 2016.
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBB8505
© GP2 Series
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Sergey Sirotkin battled from sixth place on the grid to pick up his first victory of the 2016 GP2 Series season for ART Grand Prix.

Sirotkin entered 2016 as one of the favorites for the title, but a luckless start to the year meant he arrived in Hungary far behind series leader Oliver Rowland.

The Russian finished third in Saturday’s feature race before a scintillating start saw him rise from P6 to P2 in the opening stages in Hungary.

The safety car was deployed on the first lap following a clash further back sparked by a spin for Arthur Pic that eliminated four cars.

Racing Engineering’s Jordan King headed the pack after starting from reverse grid pole, but a mistake when coming back to the green flag allowed Sirotkin to close up.

The ART driver perfectly positioned his car as he went side-by-side with King through the opening complex of corners, eventually pulling ahead at Turn 4.

From there, Sirotkin managed to pull clear and hold on to his lead through to the end of the race, picking up his first GP2 victory in over a year.

King held on to second ahead of teammate Norman Nato, who rounded out the podium positions ahead of Artem Markelov and Mitch Evans.

Oliver Rowland salvaged some points from his difficult weekend in P6, while Saturday winner Pierre Gasly extended his championship lead in seventh, also chalking up the fastest lap in the process. Raffaele Marciello picked up the final point for P8.

The GP2 Series continues next weekend in support of the German Grand Prix.

Ericsson to start Hungarian GP from pit lane

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson will start Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix from the pit lane after Sauber changed the survival cell on his car following a crash in qualifying.

Ericsson crashed out midway through a frenetic Q1 session marred by rain and red flags, sustaining enough damage to warrant repairs overnight.

Sauber was forced to break parc ferme conditions to fix Ericsson’s car, meaning he will now have to start from the pit lane

“As the survival cell has been changed the competitor is required to start from the pit lane and should follow procedures laid out in Article 36.2 of the FIA Formula One sporting regulations,” a statement from the race stewards in Hungary reads.

Rio Haryanto has also been given a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox overnight. However, the Manor driver actually gains a place from his qualifying position thanks to Ericsson’s penalty, rising from P22 to P21.

The Hungarian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 7am ET, with lights out at 8am ET.

WATCH LIVE: Hungarian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23: 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 wave to the crowd from parc ferme during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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With Formula 1’s summer break rapidly approaching, the title fight between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton is becoming increasingly tenuous.

Just a single point separates the Silver Arrows at the top of the drivers’ championship, the momentum having swung dramatically in Hamilton’s favor over the past five races.

Saturday saw Rosberg snatch pole position away from Hamilton in the final minute of qualifying, although the result was not confirmed until almost five hours after the session finished.

Rosberg completed part of his lap under yellow flags, leading to an investigation from the stewards. They eventually deemed him to have slowed enough in respect of the caution.

The post-qualifying drama did not stop there as questions were asked about five drivers’ laps during the downpour in Q1, as a grey area in the 107% rule was found.

The FIA stewards decided to let Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas keep their positions under “exceptional circumstances”.

After all that drama, the grid for the race was set as it was six hours earlier: Rosberg on pole, Hamilton P2, and the Red Bulls lurking just behind – the stage set for a thrilling battle at the front of the pack.

You can watch the Hungarian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at the Hungaroring providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

What to watch for: Hungarian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP in the post qualifying press conference during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are poised to renew their fierce rivalry in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix after locking out the front row of the grid for Mercedes.

Hamilton went into qualifying chasing a sixth pole position at the Hungaroring, and looked to have clinched it when a yellow flag was shown at the end of Q3 following a spin for Fernando Alonso. All drivers were forced to slow down, the majority abandoning their lap altogether.

Rosberg was the exception. After lifting through the yellow flag zone, the German lit up the timesheets over the rest of the lap to edge out Hamilton and snatch pole away.

The stewards did investigate Rosberg’s lap later that evening to ensure he had slowed down enough, before ultimately deciding he had.

Another post-qualifying drama followed after a grey area in the regulations emerged regarding the 107% rule, threatening five drivers with grid drops. The stewards opted to let the affected drivers keep their grid slots, citing “exceptional circumstances”.

On a weekend that has already offered plenty of drama, Sunday’s race is likely to follow suit. Be sure to tune in from 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app for all of the action.

Here’s what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

2016 Hungarian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Rosberg, Hamilton up for a fight once again

Relations between Rosberg and Hamilton have been frosty throughout 2016, and with the summer break approaching, the next two race weekends are particularly crucial. Back in 2014, a dispute in Hungary resulted in Rosberg stewing over the summer and hitting Hamilton on-track in Spa in what was arguably the turning point in the title race. Might we see a similar incident this weekend?

Starting from the front row, we may be set for another on-track fight between the two Mercedes drivers – something that has been all too scarce throughout 2016. Austria ended with contact – can they keep it clean on Sunday?

Mercedes bids to complete the set

Hamilton may be a four-time winner of the Hungarian Grand Prix, but this is actually the only race on the 2016 calendar that Mercedes has not won in the hybrid era. 2014’s event was won by Daniel Ricciardo in stunning fashion, while Sebastian Vettel dominated last year.

Mercedes’ bid to complete the set on Sunday is far from academic. On the contrary, with Ricciardo and Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen lurking just behind on a track, and the tight confines of the Hungaroring playing to the strengths of the RB12 car, Mercedes has a fight on its hands today.

Ferrari looks to ignite its season

After taking a huge stride towards Mercedes in 2015, hopes were high at Ferrari for this season. However, it has proven to be a frustrating campaign, with the brief glimmers of victory passing by. With Red Bull now appearing to move ahead in the pecking order, a big result is needed to ignite its season.

Hungary appears to be make or break for Ferrari’s 2016. Victory would justify the repeated claims that it is capable of challenging Mercedes for the title. Anything less would surely push a greater focus onto 2017.

Opportunity knocks for the lower field

The Hungarian Grand Prix has a knack of shaking up the field, with safety cars and races of attrition offering possible gains to those lower down the field.

Haas will be hoping to make the most of another double-Q2 appearance, particularly with Romain Grosjean starting P11, while Renault and Sauber are both in desperate need of points.

Throw in some safety cars and – after Saturday’s sudden downpour – maybe even a sprinkling of rain, and the lower pack could benefit.

2016 Hungarian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Fernando Alonso McLaren
8. Jenson Button McLaren
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10. Valtteri Bottas Williams
11. Romain Grosjean Haas
12. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
13. Sergio Perez Force India
14. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
15. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Jolyon Palmer Renault
18. Felipe Massa Williams
19. Kevin Magnussen Renault
20. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
21. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
22. Rio Haryanto Manor