News & Media


Chased out: Despite good run, Ragan left on outside looking in

September 12, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ragan has the best run among the also-rans; Bowyer says it's more of the same

David Ragan was one of several Chase "wild card" candidates who gave Denny Hamlin some nervous moments Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. In the end, though, all seven who had legitimate shots at racing their way into the Chase failed.

But Ragan, with a gutsy fourth-place finish that earned him the only spot in the top nine finishers that wasn't a Chase qualifier, definitely earned some consideration as a potential winner in the season's last 10 races.

"Ah, it's just the way everything's went, man -- since halfway through this season, so far -- nothing's gone my way."

--CLINT BOWYER

That knowledge, however, was little consolation as the Roush Fenway Racing driver strode off pit road after doing some media interviews amid the near-bedlam that is the annual post-race routine after this cutoff event.

"You know, after the last few weeks, we just needed a top-10 run to get back into the swing of things," Ragan said, pausing to laugh as he walked through the horde of vehicles and hangers-on. "We had a car that could have won [Saturday] night, but the situations just didn't fall our way.

"There were a lot of guys that were running rough, there were a lot of weird cautions and things just didn't go our way. So to come out of here with a top-five ... it's disappointing not to make the Chase, but our goals now are to try to stink the Chase up for everybody else.

"I feel like we can win a few more races. We've just got to be more consistent, as a team, in order to be a Chase contender."

Ragan and his gang had appeared to be in that position when they won the Unadilla, Ga., driver's first points-paying Cup race July in Daytona. But in the eight races since then, they've only had one top-10 and it came the very next week at Kentucky Speedway.

Ragan started the Richmond race in 20th and rumbled his way up to second place in the first 60 laps. But an record-tying 15 cautions knocked Ragan and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer off stride with their adjustments.

Again, Ragan laughed despite the obvious distress he was feeling.

"We just needed to get our track bar up, in my opinion," Ragan said. "But our car was so good, after about lap 40 or 50 [in a run] that we didn't want to touch it because typically here at Richmond you have a lot of early cautions and then you'll go on a very, very long run and we just wanted to maintain."

However, the race's 15 cautions put a dent Ragan's ability to challenge, even though he never fell lower than 12th in the final 340 laps of the race. That fact led to one last smile.

"If we would've known we were gonna get so many cautions, we probably would've been a little bit more aggressive at making a few more changes," Ragan said. "But if we could predict the future, we'd be on the stage [getting lauded as a Chase entrant] right now.

"Our team did a good job, but this is a tough business and we just came up a little bit short."

Clint Bowyer was a lot closer in the standings than Ragan, ending the "regular season" 14th to Ragan's 19th.

But circumstances -- bad ones -- that have epitomized his season knocked Bowyer out of the Chase for the second time in the last three years. And it left him disgusted as he sat on a stack of tires next to his No. 33 Chevrolet.

"Ah, it's just the way everything's went, man -- since halfway through this season, so far -- nothing's gone my way," Bowyer said. His Richmond event had plenty of peaks and valleys, with a low coming after only eight laps.

"David [Reutimann] crowded me pretty hard there [in Turns 3 and 4] and I got loose under him and couldn't stay off of him and spun myself out," Bowyer said. "That might've been a blessing in disguise, because it put us in a position where it gave us a second chance.

"I drove as hard as I could and got back up to the front. Then you get yourself in a position where you need to gamble -- you need to go for it -- and then you do and there's no luck on your side. The caution comes out and you're back there in the mess."

Bowyer got caught by a caution at Lap 247, when he was mired back in 25th, and he never recovered. What was even worse? With just under 100 laps to go, he got together with Reutimann again and they both spun.

"I can't take it any more -- it's just so frustrating to get this far into the season and to be this far behind," Bowyer said, smiling despite himself. "You try so hard, and the harder you try, the worse you do... So we've got 10 races left and [see] if we can go out and win one of these races -- and we need to do that for our sponsors -- to cap off this season."

Of the other contenders that were trying to race their way into the Chase, Greg Biffle -- Ragan's Roush Fenway teammate -- had the best shot, as he led six laps before halfway and ran in the top 10 for more than half the race before he fell back to 13th at the finish.

Biffle, who came into the race 28 points behind Hamlin and would've had to win and beat Hamlin by at least 26 positions to get into the Chase; fell to 13th at the finish and left the track without commenting on his night.

Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose, who had each won his first Cup race this season, also could have made the Chase if either had won. But both were involved in numerous scrums on the race track and they ended up 21st (Ambrose) and 34th (Menard).

A.J. Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr. each needed to win and, to varying degrees, needed for Hamlin to have serious trouble to make the Chase. But Allmendinger, who came into the race the closest to Hamlin, only 11 points behind, was all over the running order -- from ninth where he started back to 27th -- before he rebounded to finish 11th.

Truex, who'd had chances to win the series' two races prior to coming into Richmond, was caught up in the wreck started by Bowyer. Truex, whose car was damaged in the melee, never ran better than his 29th starting position all night and ended up finishing 30th.

In the end, Bowyer summed up everyone's feelings outside the 12 Chase qualifiers, with a touch of class.

"I want to say congratulations to all the guys that made the Chase," Bowyer said, out in the relative darkness of the garage. "That's something that's important, we've made it before and it means a lot to everybody in this sport.

"I'm sorry to my sponsors that we're not in it and we'll try harder next year."