David Ragan: Looking forward with new crew chief!
David Ragan: Looking forward
With new crew chief, No. 6 driver excited about 2010 season
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
As the 2010 NASCAR season approaches, one of the stories to watch will be the performance of David Ragan and his No. 6 Ford team at Roush Fenway Racing. After nearly making the Chase in 2008 and showing tons of promise, Ragan started the 2009 season with a solid sixth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, then dropped like a rock, finally finishing 27th in the points standings with just two top-10 finishes (the other a seventh at California in the fall) and four laps led.
And when one’s driving one of the premier cars for one of the sport’s premier owners, that’s not good for the long-term employment prospects.
But Ragan says he’s used to that kind of pressure and ready to go to work to right his team’s listing ship. His dedication to racing was evident in his New Year’s Day schedule. At an hour when most were sleeping off a night of revelry, Ragan was at his personal shop, working on a Late Model car that he plans to race in his home state of Georgia at Lanier National Speedway on Saturday and Sunday.
Still, his primary focus is on his Cup efforts, so he took the time to grant an interview about his NASCAR efforts while his friends and cousins continued work on the car.
With impact wrenches hammering away in the background, Ragan talked about the upcoming season.
He said he’s optimistic, based on some recent conversations, that his new crew chief, Donnie Wingo, can help him achieve the success he couldn’t find in ’09 with his former pit boss Jimmy Fennig.
“It’ll be good for our team to have Donnie and me working together,” Ragan said. “We’ve talked some, and we’re thinking along the same direction on a lot of things …
“It’ll be a lot of fun to go to Daytona with a new group and a good attitude.”
?Ragan said his preseason goals are pretty much the same as the ones he had this time last year – make the Chase and win some races. He said that at this point, he doesn’t consider himself, or his team, championship material.
“I don’t know that any team is except the 48 [Jimmie Johnson’s team],” he said. “We just need to be consistent, and not have a lot of failures.”
He pointed out that last season started good enough, but he soon was struck with a series of misfortunes. He was 17th in the second race of the season, at California, and was eighth in points heading to the third race, at Las Vegas. He blew an engine there then lost another one in the seventh race of the season, at Texas. He left there 29th in points.
“We never were able to dig ourselves out of the hole,” he said, adding that he hopes history doesn’t repeat itself.
“We just can’t afford any DNFs [Did Not Finish] in the first five or six races. If we’re in the top 15 in points through Atlanta, Bristol will be good.”
When Ragan laid out the road map for success in 2010, it seemed pretty straightforward and simple, but it’ll have to be followed with the burden of pressure that comes with the territory.
But Ragan said he’s ready for that too.
“I’ve always raced like I had the heat on me,” he said. “It’s been like that since I was 12 and driving for my father. When I got out of high school and was trying to get a ride, I had heat on me.”
He said that’s a better approach than to be overly sure of himself, like some drivers who have more confidence than their on-track results justify. And he has others to think about too.
“I need to perform for my fans, for [sponsor] UPS, for my father, for everyone,” he said. “And I feel confident that I can do it.”
A lot of that confidence comes from two major victories in the Nationwide Series last year – at Talladega and Bristol. They were his first two in a major NASCAR series, and they also were the first for his then-crew chief Mike Kelley and for most of the people on his team. But with the departure of sponsor Discount Tire, Ragan currently has no Nationwide races on his schedule. That’s something he’d like to change.
“I want to run some Nationwide races, but I want to run them for Roush,” he said. “Hopefully something will happen so I can run a limited schedule, but my primary focus is on getting the Cup program going.”
And his work with his Late Model car is a first step of the year in that direction. With limited opportunities for testing in his Cup car due to NASCAR’s restrictions on testing, he’ll use his time behind the wheel to sharpen his skills for the upcoming season.
“Any time you can get in a race car helps you,” he said. “You get to use muscles you haven’t used in a couple of months, and you get to do some restarts and run two-wide.”
And maybe get that boost that comes from being first to the checkered flag.