News & Media

Ragan's mistake dooms chance at Daytona victory

February 20, 2011, Dave Rodman,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Black-flagged from lead for switching lanes on race's second-to-last restart

David Ragan's crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, came out of his Roush Fenway Racing hauler after the Daytona 500 with a sandwich in his hand, so choking on the disappointment of his driver, David Ragan, losing a shot at winning the Great American Race wasn't an option.

"You just try hard," said Blickensderfer, who'd already had to rebound once, when his team's primary car was wrecked in its Thursday qualifying race by another driver's accident -- ironically Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. "It's hard to get mad at David for doing that, or to get mad at anybody, when they're trying to win. That's what you want -- someone who will try to win, and that's what he thought he needed to do, to get in front of that No. 21 [Bayne] to win.

Black flag

David Ragan pulled in front of Trevor Bayne on the Lap 203 restart, costing him a chance at the victory.

Blickensderfer's driver led the race twice for seven laps, but on the first of two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, Ragan took the green flag on the outside, next to Bayne and changed lanes before he reached the start/finish line, which violates section 10-2 of the Sprint Cup Series rule book.

"Yeah, I think [at some point it's in the driver's hands] and I told him to make sure we don't switch before the start/finish line," Blickensderfer said. "He just started easing down there to make sure he did get in front of [Bayne] and he didn't feel like he was switching lanes as much as 'OK, I'm plenty clear and I'm gonna go run my race.'

"That's what he was doing more than he was trying to circumvent a rule. The rule is, you can't change lanes before the start/finish line, and being the leader of the race, he assumed that when he took off, he could go wherever he wanted to."

Ragan was black-flagged, restarted the second and final G-W-C attempt in 15th and finished 14th. The disappointment for Ragan, who had his best chance in 147 career starts to win, was nearly overwhelming.

After he made his pass-through penalty and merged into the field, Ragan keyed his in-car radio and said, "Maybe everyone will run out of gas, but I felt like I did the right thing."

He didn't, and Ragan faced-up to it, returning to the area across from the back of the team transporter more than 20 minutes after the checkered flag. He recalled with a chuckle a question he'd been asked more than a week ago -- about whether the promise he and Blickensderfer had shown at the end of last year could convert into a better finish than the Daytona 500 career-best fifth he'd scored in 2007 as a rookie.

"It was tough to swallow," Ragan said. "Who knows what would have happened in that next lap? We had a top-five car [Sunday] and we didn't finish in the top five, so that's a bummer. We had a car that could've won the Daytona 500. We were sitting in position and just didn't do it.

"This thing only comes around once a year, so I'll think about it until we throw the checkered flag on next year's Daytona 500. So it's tough, but there is a bright side -- we finished, we got some points and we ran up front, but we just didn't get what we come down here to do."

Ragan said he just didn't know what he had to do differently.

"It was tough to swallow. Who knows what would have happened in that next lap? We had a top-five car [Sunday] and we didn't finish in the top five, so that's a bummer. We had a car that could've won the Daytona 500. We were sitting in position and just didn't do it."


"I'll always critique myself and you've got to be perfect to win these Sprint Cup races -- and we weren't perfect [Sunday]," Ragan said. "I feel like I know the rules and understand 'em as good as anyone, but I just kind of let my emotions take over and I just didn't make the right moves when it counted."

Given how much he'd worked with Bayne already, Ragan felt that was his best shot to win.

"That was probably my only shot to win," Ragan said emphatically. "I don't even remember who -- I think Tony [Stewart] was behind us, so Trevor was practically a teammate. He had been pushing me a lot of the day and we were destined to be there. I just didn't make the right decisions when it counted."

"I wanted to keep David up there," Bayne said later. "I was trying to take his side on the radio because that was our buddy, our Ford teammate that we could push. I planned on being the pusher.

"That rule is tough. If you're the leader, you want to be able to go wherever you want as long as you go in that [restart] box. I can see where NASCAR is coming on that. The lane change was made. Do I agree with it? I don't know what to say because we're sitting here in Victory Lane. I'll take a win any way I can get it."

The Daytona 500 winning crew chief Donnie Wingo worked with Ragan at Roush Fenway Racing for most of last season before he switched to work with the Wood Brothers midway through last fall. Blickensderfer took Wingo's place and Wingo said he spoke to his former teammates before he went to Victory Lane.

"I think David did a tremendous job," Wingo said. "It's just one of those calls that I guess NASCAR has to make. David's a good kid, too. I think a lot of David. He was committed to us early in the race and then we kind of got separated a little bit and there at the end he committed back to us again, and that's what we needed."

"I hate that for David and them," Bayne said. "[It] might not have worked out. Neither one of us might have ended up in Victory Lane had he not gotten black-flagged. I have to thank them for getting us up there, because if it wasn't for them, we never would have been in that situation to take the lead after that because they worked with us to get back to the front pushing us together."

As is often the case, Ragan's RFR teammate Carl Edwards, who finished second, wasn't aware what had happened to his mate.

"I don't know who's gonna have more trouble sleeping -- David or me -- but that's racing, man," Edwards said. "But gosh, David's such a good guy, and I don't know what he did -- I didn't see it. ... But if there was a break to cut a guy, that would've been the time to cut it for him -- but maybe NASCAR did, maybe what he did was just so blatantly wrong, but I didn't see it."

Told Ragan had switched lanes before he reached the start/finish line, Edwards stopped on the bottom step of the staircase to the ESPN studio, and made a face.

"Damn," Edwards said. "He was probably just thinking about winning the [Daytona] 500. Damn, I didn't know that."

Neither did Ragan, apparently.

"There are definitely a lot of positives," Ragan said. "To lead laps in the Daytona 500 and come out of here with a top-15. There are a lot of good cars we're gonna battle all year long that had to load up early and got a DNF. So there is some positives.

"But man, it is tough to forget about the big picture."