News & Media

Notes: Ragan feels pressure; Kenseth on baby watch

January 29, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

Father-to-be Kenseth reflects on last pre-Chase title; Johnson in Rolex mode

The pressure's on David Ragan -- and it's largely self-imposed.

After narrowly missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2008 and finishing 13th in points, Ragan, 25, has struggled mightily during the past two seasons, ending the 2009 and 2010 seasons 27th and 24th in the standings, respectively.

Now in the third year of a three-year contract with Roush Fenway Racing -- as are teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle -- Ragan needs to put numbers on the board. Late-season success after a crew chief change last year -- with Drew Blickensderfer taking over Ragan's No. 6 Ford -- is cause for optimism.

"We've got a lot of pressure on the 6 car," Ragan told Sporting News. "And I've had pressure on me from day one, stepping into Mark Martin's ride -- with one of the best sponsors in the garage with AAA and now with UPS.

"I'm used to that pressure, I guess, but we've got a lot of confidence. And along with that pressure, if you get some confidence and a little momentum, that's the way racing's supposed to be, and that's the way it was a couple of years ago. The pressure was on us, but we never really thought about it, because we were just out there running and top-tenning it to death."

The handling of the Roush cars has been an issue during the past two years, but the organization made significant gains in the second half of the 2010 season. Ragan knows his equipment is high-quality -- and he's not looking for excuses.

"I think our race cars are as good as they've been in two years, and we know that, and we're going to go out and drive 'em as hard as we can," he said. "Yeah, it's a contract year -- but it's just time to do it. Drew and I believe in each other, and it feels good to have a lot of confidence going into the year."

Kenseth happy to take credit for the Chase

You can't blame Matt Kenseth for NASCAR's new, simplified point-scoring system.

Remember, though, that it was Kenseth who took his share of good-natured ribbing when NASCAR introduced the Chase before the 2004 season.

Kenseth had won the 2003 Cup championship, the last before the tobacco settlement forced Winston out of its title sponsorship of NASCAR's top series. Kenseth's "boring" title run, wrapped up before the season finale at Homestead and fashioned with just one victory, helped prompt NASCAR to adopt a playoff system. Hence, the Chase.

"I was happy to take the credit -- I really was," Kenseth said. "We had an awesome year that year. I mean, my gosh, it was great."

The past two years haven't been as fruitful. Mired in a 70-race winless streak, Kenseth would love to win the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, but he also has other things on his mind. He and wife, Katie, have a baby due in late February.

"It's going to be the Monday after Daytona," Kenseth deadpanned. "That's not when she's due, but that's when she's going to have it. She's going to have it on the 21st. That's my prediction."

Kenseth doesn't know the baby's gender. He'd rather be surprised.

"I want to know once it comes out," he said. "We didn't find out. There's not much for surprises any more. You can pretty much find out anything these days."

Lack of Cup practice helps Johnson in Rolex

In one respect, lack of seat time in his Cup car is a benefit to Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is the five-time defending Cup champion. That's his day job. On Saturday and Sunday, however, Johnson is moonlighting as one of three drivers of the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

This is Johnson's seventh appearance in the 24-hour endurance race that kicks off the Grand-Am season. Though Johnson participated in a full-field Cup test Jan. 20-22 at Daytona, the Cup season doesn't start in earnest until Feb. 11, when practice opens for the Budweiser Shootout at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

"Luckily, I'm not in rhythm on the Cup side, and I've done this enough over the years to understand how chaotic the race is and what is important for me from a rest/hydration/nutrition standpoint to be ready," Johnson said Saturday before the race.

"We've gone down to three drivers in our Gainsco Chevrolet, and it's going to be a real big load for all three of us to carry."

Johnson, who has never been part of a winning Rolex 24 team, is sharing driving duties with Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. The race ends at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday.