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:

F1 narrowing down target cities for second US race

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Formula 1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey says that Liberty Media has begun to narrow down its target cities for a second grand prix in the United States.

Liberty Media completed its takeover of F1 in January, with Carey being appointed the sport’s new chief in place of Bernie Ecclestone.

Liberty has expressed a desire to expand F1’s footprint in key markets such as the United States, with a second grand prix to accompany the existing USGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas being a key objective.

Speaking to reporters at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva earlier this week, Carey confirmed that Liberty was continuing to explore options for a second US race, narrowing down the possible locations.

“There’s probably some that we’ve ruled out, but it’s certainly more than a few. We still have multiple cities, and in a couple of cities, there are multiple options or multiple potential options,” Carey said.

“I don’t think we’re going to get too deep into what I think are private discussions. I think these discussions are better-had privately between parties. We’re not looking to go out and publicly play cities against each other and venues against each other.

“I think we want to make a decision that’s best on the merits for the sport and its fans. It’s a priority so we’re actively engaged on it. We’re moving forward, but we’re not going to put a deadline on it or go through the process publicly.”

Carey has previously expressed a strong desire to take F1 to big cities all over the world, and named New York, Miami and Las Vegas as possible targets for street events, although he recognized that getting grands prix in the very heart of them may prove difficult.

“I don’t think they’ll be [permanent] tracks, because I guess the cities we’ve cited like New York, Miami, Las Vegas, there aren’t tracks. So we’re not going to build a track in Miami or New York,” Carey said.

“But I don’t think we’re going to be racing down 5th Avenue in Manhattan either, so I think we like the connection to cities.

“By definition in those certain places we’ll use street races that will be upgraded to a place where they have the quality and requirements necessary to host a race.

“So clearly there will have to be things done to make that circuit ready.”

F1 is also set to put on more events in cities in host nations in the lead up to grand prix weekends, with several days of activities being the goal for Liberty moving forward in a bid to build interest.

“We’d like to be connected to the city. In many ways if you want a week-long event the events up to the race weekend are probably more city-centric and you evolve towards the track as you get to Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” Carey said.

“So having that connection to the city is something that we lack. I think we can make it work in places where they’re further afield as some of the historic tracks exist, but I think that connection to the city enhances the ability to engage the city.

“Silverstone is a way outside London and yet we’re going to have stuff in London that is celebrating the week in Silverstone.

“So just because you have the distance, I think if we have the opportunity to be more connected to the city, we think that presents interesting and fun opportunities.”

Todt confirms interest from new teams to join F1 grid

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GENEVA, Switzerland – FIA president Jean Todt has confirmed there is interest from new teams to join the Formula 1 grid in the near future following recent speculation about some fresh projects being worked on.

Ten teams currently race in F1, marking its lowest full-season roster since 2009 following the closure of Manor before the start of the new campaign.

Speculation has emerged in recent week about new projects being worked on to get a team on the grid in the near future, with staff at current teams reportedly being approached at recent races.

Talking to reporters at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva, Todt confirmed that there had been interest from new teams, but that an entry would be dependent on a tender being issued.

“There are always rumors, but we have had some interest from some teams,” Todt confirmed, adding the interest had come “recently”.

“When we feel it is time we will be able to make a tender,” Todt continued. “At the moment we have 10 teams and the idea is to have up to 12 teams.

“So we have an opportunity, if we have one or two strong newcomers it could be possible.

“First we need to check the request ourselves, it’s going through a kind of audit to see who are the potential buyers. If it’s a big manufacturer, it’s easy, if it’s a privateer, you need to be more careful.

“And then, once you are sure that there is a real interest, and once you’re sure that people are capable, like it was the case with Haas, for example, then we make tender.”

Todt’s comments also come in the wake of a company changing its name to ‘China F1 Racing Team Limited’ in the UK last month, appearing to add up with speculation about Chinese investment being behind the push for a new team.

Sauber confirms Kaltenborn’s departure from team

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Sauber F1 Team has released two statements late Wednesday night, with the second confirming Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure after reports surfaced earlier Wednesday she was due to leave with immediate effect.

Sauber’s second statement said, attributed to Pascal Picci, Chairman of the Board:

“Longbow Finance SA regrets to announce that, by mutual consent and due to diverging views of the future of the company, Monisha Kaltenborn will leave her positions with the Sauber Group effective immediately. We thank her for many years of strong leadership, great passion for the Sauber F1 Team and wish her the very best for the future. Her successor will be announced shortly; in the meantime we wish the team the best of luck in Azerbaijan.”

An earlier statement released in conjunction with this, also attributed to Picci, scolded media reports hinting at unfair treatment within the team.

“The owners and board of Sauber Motorsport AG take strong exception to speculative and widespread media reports today that our race drivers have not been, and are not being, treated equally. This is not only patently untrue, it would be contrary to the team’s absolute and longstanding commitment to fair competition. These reports, attributed to anonymous “sources”, are highly detrimental to both Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein as well as to the management and all staff of the Sauber F1 Team.”

More to follow…

Global MX-5 Cup heads to Road America after Indy double

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The next two races in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires series take place this weekend at Road America, part of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ KOHLER Grand Prix weekend.

Robert Stout (won by just 0.0632 of a second) and Patrick Gallagher split the race wins last weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but kept McCumbee McAleer Racing’s perfect streak alive in 2017.

Gallagher leads the championship by a healthy margin of 39 points over Nathanial Sparks of Sick Sideways Racing.

Mark Drennan, Stout and Todd Lamb complete the top five in the championship.

MX-5 has raced at Road America on several different weekends in the past, but is now part of the IndyCar weekend.

All four Andersen Promotions-operated series – MX-5 plus the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series – are at Road America this weekend.

This marks the first time that’s happened since MX-5 came under the Andersen umbrella. Pro Mazda was not at Barber, when MX-5 premiered its season.

MX-5 races at 12:40 p.m. Friday and 10:05 a.m. Saturday.