News & Media


Ragan finding positive in losing Daytona 500

July 01, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- After being penalized from the lead on first G-W-C, Ragan sees silver lining

The day after winning the Daytona 500 in February, Trevor Bayne couldn't shake the spotlight. After the champion's breakfast, Bayne jetted off for a week-long television appearance spree that took him to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, with stints on Good Morning America and Ellen.

David Ragan couldn't shake the spotlight, either. Two laps away from a possible Daytona 500 victory, Ragan made a terrible mistake.

"... Every time someone brings it up or I see a replay, I think about that. And all I can do is just think about what will I do differently next time, to not be in that position."

--DAVID RAGAN

In an attempt to keep Bayne as his drafting partner on the first green-white-checkered restart, Ragan changed lanes before reaching the start/finish line -- a NASCAR no-no. The penalty? Restarting at the tail end of the lead lap cars. Ragan eventually rallied to finish 14th as "the man who lost the Daytona 500."

Now Ragan returns to the scene of what could have been a career-changer, still looking for that elusive first Cup victory.

"I thought about it a lot the next couple of days after the race," Ragan said. "But in this sport, you've got to get focused on the next weekend. You've got 36 weekends a year that you've got a points-paying race that are just as important as the Daytona 500, from that standpoint. So you've got to put it behind you.

"But, yeah, every time someone brings it up or I see a replay, I think about that. And all I can do is just think about what will I do differently next time, to not be in that position."

Ragan, who will start fifth in Saturday's Coke Zero 400, prefers to look at the positives from the two restrictor-plate races run so far in 2011.

"There's a confidence level that our whole team has coming back down here," Ragan said. "After we ran well at Talladega, we feel good at these places. We think we have an advantage with the FR9 engine. Of course, I had a pretty fast car pushing me that day in the No. 21. I think as a group, all the Fords, if we can work together, we all have a lot of confidence."

Temperatures were in the 50s in February. That, combined with the newly repaved racing surface, made for smooth and fast conditions perfect for tandem racing. But even under the lights, it'll still be warm enough in early July to make Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 a new adventure.

"[Tandem racing is] very temperature sensitive," Ragan said. "That's why I feel like the Fords have had the advantage. But we've obviously given everyone some time to catch up. But you throw another 20 degrees in the air versus February, and you're going to have to switch more often.

"And usually that's when people get wrecked, when you're switching more often. We'll have to be really careful. In the position we're at, we've still got a great shot at making the Chase if we can get a win. But we have to stay in the top 20 and we can't afford a [did not finish]."

With Bayne providing the push in February, Ragan drove right to the front. But if Ragan can't get connected to the No. 21 Saturday night, he still believes he has enough options.

"We've got our teammates and our Ford family kind of linked together through our radio systems so we can communicate," Ragan said. "I think that's the biggest thing. If you can communicate with the guy you're pushing with, you stand a lot better chance of not being in a wreck if something happens. When it gets a little scary is when you're pushing a guy and you don't know what he's thinking. Hopefully we've got enough Ford guys out there that we can find a drafting partner."

As to why so many younger drivers seem to have taken to tandem drafting, Ragan said it's a matter of starting with a clean sheet of paper, so to speak.

"You have to throw the normal mindset out the window," Ragan said. "If you think about the normal drafting here in years past, it was all about being patient and pushing yourself right to that limit without going over. But now, if you're a pusher, you've got to push, no matter what. If you let off the throttle a little bit, you lose your momentum.

"The guy that's up front, you've got to almost be a coach -- move here, let's go there -- and almost plan a lap or two ahead. So there's a different mentality. We're seeing that the younger guys are on a little more level playing field because it's new for everyone."

The guy who lost the Daytona 500? Ragan would rather think of it as a preview of better things to come.

"I think we showed everyone that we can win," Ragan said. "We almost won the Daytona 500."