News & Media

Exhausted Ragan outlasts for career-best finish

May 30, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Shortly after climbing from his No. 6 Ford following a career-best second-place finish in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, driver David Ragan bent down to pick up a screwdriver that one of his team members had inadvertently dropped and left behind on pit road.

He was so spent after surviving NASCAR's longest race that he almost could not straighten back up.

Press Pass

David Ragan comments on his 600 finish and the strategy it took to end up there.

Ragan then shuffled over to sit on the pit-road wall while conducting a series of interviews after a stunning finish in which he and race winner Kevin Harvick were the biggest beneficiaries when first Kasey Kahne and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas following the final restart of the night. Earnhardt, trying to break a long winless streak, had his fuel tank run dry on the backstretch of the final lap, extending his futility to 105 races.

As Ragan rested on the pit wall, Carl Edwards approached. Ragan's Roush Fenway Racing teammate had a question for him.

"How close were you to running out?" Edwards wanted to know.

"Yards," muttered Ragan, smiling weakly.

Ragan was running fifth when Kahne's problems caused the field to stack up. He and Joey Logano, who finished third, did some particularly nifty driving to negotiate through the trouble and get into position to take the most advantage of Earnhardt's misfortune.

"I loved it. I wish they all would have dropped out," Ragan said. "I love it when they're checking up and dropping out. I wish the start/finish line had been a down a little further in Turn 1 and maybe we would have had a shot at getting Harvick."

Ragan said he was not surprised when NASCAR decided not to throw a caution flag just before Earnhardt, then the leader, took the white flag signifying one lap to go.

"Not really. I won't tell you why I'm not surprised, but I think everybody knows," Ragan said. "Nothing was stopped on the race track. I don't think anybody was in danger; everybody was moving.

"That's what makes it exciting. I can't wait to hear what everybody has to say. This was one of the most exciting Coke 600s that I can remember."

Ragan was well aware that the popular Earnhardt was attempting to break a long winless drought. But he had one of his own to worry about. He has yet to notch his first Sprint Cup win, despite driving full-time in the series for Roush Fenway since 2007. Counting the first two Cup races he ran in 2006, that puts Ragan's own winless streak at 158 races and counting.

But finishing second for the first time in his career is as close as you can get to winning, and that was the positive that he held onto after Sunday's race.

"We had a good car," Ragan said. "We've had some speed in our UPS Ford this year. We just haven't been able to close the deal. We've made a lot of improvements on our team -- and [RFR teammates] Carl, Greg [Biffle] and Matt [Kenseth] are some of the best drivers out here, so that keeps the pressure pretty tight on myself to try to keep up. We had a good night."

Prior to Sunday, Ragan's top finish in a Cup race was third -- which he accomplished at Richmond in 2007 and at both Talladega and Michigan in '08. After finishing 13th in points in '08, he headed into the '09 season thinking that more top-fives, and some wins, were in his near future.

But in 2009 and '10, he failed to register a single top-five finish. Sunday's was his second of this season, however, as he also placed fourth at Richmond last month.

"If the 29 had just stumbled a little bit, we could have won it," Ragan said of Sunday's scramble on the last two laps. "But that's a couple of races we've been close to winning this year. When you're around at the finish in the top five, eventually a win will come."

Ragan did win the non-points Sprint Showdown race to get into the All-Star Race at CMS just eight days earlier. He said he enjoys racing at the 1.5-mile track, which is where he began competitive driving in Bandolero and Legends cars at age 11.

"I wish we raced here again next week," Ragan said. "Our mile-and-a-half program has been really strong. So I can't wait to get to Kansas and Pocono and Michigan. A lot of these tracks coming up are going to be fun.

"Ever since I raced a Legends car here and Humpy Wheeler was promoting the races, there has always been something kind of magical about Charlotte. It would have been awesome to get that Coca-Cola win, but there's always next year."

Next year maybe he won't have to worry so much about running out of fuel at the end. Then again, who knows?

"It happens. Short tracks, big tracks, road courses. You never know when a fuel-mileage race going to happen," Ragan said. "I feel like we were about 100 yards or so from running out at the end. I'm glad we didn't."