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Preview: Ragan hopes to solidify Chase berth, thank Roush

July 15, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Among other things, David Ragan will have payback on his mind this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Not a vendetta-type payback against another driver who did him wrong, but a thank you-type payback for a team owner who did him right.

Ragan knows that a great finish in Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 will go a long way toward putting him in his first Chase, and that that would go a long way toward justifying the faith which Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush has showed in him through some really rough times.

"Are we a lock for the Chase? Absolutely not. We've got eight tough weeks in front of us of very competitive racing. I think there are three or four guys in front of us that are very, very hungry for a win."

--DAVID RAGAN

"From Day 1," the 25-year-old Ragan said this week, "when Jack gave me an opportunity that I probably didn't deserve being a young kid, not having a full Nationwide Series or a full Truck Series underneath my belt and being promoted to the number 6 car in '07, he probably went out on a limb and he certainly put me with some good people over the years."

Ragan will start the race in Loudon with his Chase/payback chances looking decent at the very least. He's 15th in points, but only 35 out of 10th. But most encouraging of all is that his victory at Daytona two weeks ago puts him in a strong position to win one of the two wild-card entries for the playoffs.

A victory at New Hampshire would allow him to put a hammerlock on a spot in the Chase, which is now just eight races way.

Maybe best of all, a victory, or even a top-five finish, would allow him to maintain the kind of momentum he has established the past couple of races, with consecutive top-10s. The kind of momentum which he wants and needs to get into the Chase and perhaps convince primary sponsor UPS that extending its deal with Roush Fenway and the No. 6 Ford team would be a wise move.

"I think we're definitely on an upswing," Ragan said. "Are we a lock for the Chase? Absolutely not. We've got eight tough weeks in front of us of very competitive racing. I think there are three or four guys in front of us that are very, very hungry for a win. They're probably going to get a win in these next eight races, so we've got to be on top of our game -- another win, a lot more top-fives, a lot more top-10s. We're in a good spot. We kind of control our own destiny, but there's no time to let up now."

Especially not with the flat and tricky, 1.058-mile, oblong New Hampshire oval next up.

NHMS is a track which has baffled some of the best in the sport. Ragan teammates Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, for example, have one victory there between them in 52 combined Cup starts. No Earnhardt has won there.

And Ragan, well, he's struggled mightily at New Hampshire. His best finish is 15th, and that came in his debut there in the summer of 2007. His average finish in eight starts is 27.8.

Yet Ragan seems undaunted.

"Loudon is a race track that statistic-wise we're horrible," Ragan said. "It may be one of our worst tracks, but we've had better runs there and it just seems like a lot of crazy things happen."

Which brings him to his plan for New Hampshire on Sunday.

"Jack tells you just to focus and don't mess up," Ragan said. "He always reminds you, 'don't mess up.'"

If Ragan can do that, he just may discover that payback can also be a beach.

Ragan hopeful about sponsor negotiations

Ragan's victory at Daytona hasn't been a panacea for the driver of the No. 6 Ford, but it certainly added a positive tenor to the negotiations between RFR's and UPS, Ragan's sponsor.

Ragan is in a contract year, as is UPS. Whether either returns to the No. 6 car is an open question, but the Daytona victory improved the odds.

"I'm really happy at Roush, and I think the Fords are running great, and Jack is happy with the performance of the 6 team, even compared to his other teams," Ragan said Friday at New Hampshire.

"A lot of it is the negotiations between Roush and UPS and working out the small details. I'm encouraged by some of the recent conversations we've had, and things look to be on the good side, but like I've said, you can't stop with what you've done. ... I still think we're four to six weeks out from really having some announcements and look forward to some good runs in-between then."

Who's Hot / Who's Not

Hot
• Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman have each scored three consecutive top-10 finishes at Loudon, the longest current streak.
• Jeff Gordon's streak of 11 consecutive races with top-15 finishes at NHMS is the longest active one.
• Denny Hamlin has finished 15th or better in his past 10 starts at New Hampshire.
• Jimmie Johnson has finished in the top 10 in seven of his past eight starts there.
• David Reutimann has finished 15th or better in his past five races.
• Marcos Ambrose is still looking for his first top-10 start and finish in four races at New Hampshire.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. has started 20th or worse in the past four races at Loudon.
• Kasey Kahne has just one top-10 start in his past 11 races there.
• Four-time NHMS winner Jeff Burton has finished 12th or worse in his past four starts at the track.
• Matt Kenseth has finished 17th or worse in his past six races at New Hampshire.

Ragan didn't stop with the win at Daytona, the first of his Cup career. He followed that performance with an eighth-place finish at Kentucky last Saturday night. Ragan has six top-10s at midseason, one more than in his previous two full seasons combined.