Ragan: Small team will 'absolutely' make Chase
May 03, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
TALLADEGA, Ala. – One driver's "wild card" is another driver's "best hope" when it comes to restrictor plate racing at NASCAR's wildest and wooliest track, Talladega Superspeedway.
The unpredictable nature of the tight pack racing and propensity for multi-car pile-ups makes some drivers nervous about Sunday's Aaron's 499 (1 p.m. on FOX) and others chomping at the bit.
For small teams hoping to capitalize on NASCAR's new win-and-you're-in championship format this style of competition is the ultimate equalizer. It's not only a chance to hoist a trophy, it's potentially a season-maker.
For Brad Keselowski, who scored his first ever Sprint Cup win in this race in 2009, driving for the single-car Phoenix Racing, it was also a career-launcher.
"I think one win can get you into the Chase and that's why we take Talladega very serious and we do all that we can and try to come here with a good attitude and try to make the best of the weekend,'' said defending race winner David Ragan, whose Front Row Motorsports team is one of the smaller organizations hoping to seize on unique opportunity Talladega presents.
"We are not a Chase contender, we're a wild card contender,'' Ragan continued.
"We are not consistent enough to win several races or click off five or six top-10s in a row and we realize that. But what NASCAR has done has given us a chance to be in the Chase for the championship and that would really change the course of Front Row Motorsports and what we're trying to achieve as a team and personally, as a driver.''
Whether it's at one of the restrictor plate tracks or perhaps one of the road course venues, or even just an improbable triumph over the mega-teams at a small track, Ragan said he's confident a small team will definitely be represented in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup postseason.
Had the new format existed last year, Ragan would have been that driver.
"Absolutely,'' Ragan said when asked if he believes a team like Front Row would qualify for the Chase.
"I think you look at AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Casey Mears (Germain Racing), even look at the Petty cars. .. they are not consistent to make the Chase in the old format. I think they would admit that too. There will be one, maybe two cars, that will benefit from the new changes and will make the Chase, absolutely.''
Those teams certainly looked racey in Saturday's first ever group qualifying session at Talladega.
Sunday's polesitter Brian Scott is technically from Circle Sport Racing, although the team is affiliated with Richard Childress Racing. Allmendinger and Mears were third and fourth fastest in qualifying and will make up the second row of the starting grid on Sunday – their teams also receiving technical support from RCR.
Having that kind of alliance may be the difference between these smaller teams contending or not.
Allmendinger stood in his team's hauler before qualifying Saturday and while flattered to be included among those who earn a playoff berth this weekend, he joked that with his track record here, a win would mark a huge change of fortune – short and long-term.
He has five finishes of 30th or worse in his eight Talladega starts and is still looking for his first top-10. But Allmendinger's coming off his second top-10 of the season (at Richmond) and the team has shown quantifiable improvement – encouraging that one victory is a real possibility.
"These races (like Talladega) are favored more for the smaller teams because anything can happen, but for me, I don't come in to the weekend and say this is going to be the place I get that win,'' said Allmendinger, who is driving the No. 47 Bush's Beans-sponsored Chevy this week.
"It's just like every race we go to. I don't look at the (previous) stats because it's a new year, new situation, new car. For us with the RCR alliance, we'll have a fast car in the race so it's just about putting yourself in the right position and God-willing have a shot to win the race. Some weekends we have a better shot than others.''
But these drivers say even winning a race and making the Chase isn't the end game.
"I don't want to say we finished 16th in points because we just got lucky and got a win to make the Chase and now we're satisfied,'' Allmendinger said.
"I want to be the team that says, 'we made it and now we have a shot at it.'
"Now we can be a team that maybe people aren't picking to win the thing, but they know they can't sleep on us either."