News & Media

A wild ride for Ragan following Daytona victory

July 05, 2012, Bill Kimm,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It seems like yesterday. David Ragan hoisting the Coke Zero 400 trophy in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway after his first Cup Series victory -- a redemption of sorts after a late-race restart penalty robbed Ragan from a possible Daytona 500 victory.

It seems like yesterday ... to everyone but Ragan.

"I have motivation to be more competitive week in and week out and if that's with Front Row Motorsports, growing the team -- it would be a lot of fun to say I was a part of growing this team to the next level."


"It feels cool to be back here in Daytona. To be back here with a memory of standing in Victory Lane a year ago, that's certainly special," Ragan said Friday from Daytona. "A lot has changed since that night so it's going to be a lot of fun to get back on the race track and see what [we've] got."

A lot has changed is an understatement.

A few months after earning his first, and only, Cup Series victory, Ragan lost his ride at Roush Fenway Racing when UPS decided to cut back its sponsorship. With a slew of drivers in the Roush stable and no cars available, Ragan found himself unemployed at the end of 2011.

In January, Ragan inked a deal with Front Row Motorsports to drive the No. 34 full time -- a move that kept the 26-year-old in the Cup Series, but also took him from a top-tier championship team to one still trying to find its footing in the ultra-competitive Cup world.

"It's almost a little backwards," Ragan said. "You think the normal progression is run some Trucks, run some Nationwide, run the Cup Series. I went straight from an ARCA car to the Sprint Cup Series in one year. I didn't take the normal progression and have certainly seen both sides of it -- a team that's new in our sport that's still finding its footwork and learning where its place is at and a team like Roush that's been here for 20 years."

The most difficult adjustment for Ragan has been tempering expectations. At Roush, wins and Chase berths were constantly discussed. That's not the case at Front Row. However, Ragan sees improvement on the horizon at FRM and expectations could be shifting.

"We know we aren't going to go out and lead all the laps and win the race," Ragan said. "Our goals are top-20s every week. If we can improve our speed throughout the weekend, work hard, try to get the best finish that we can get, that's a start. At some point we do want to win some races and get better, but we have to be realistic in our goals.

"We've made some progress with our Front Row Motorsports team this year. We are still looking to improve week in week out, working hard to reach out to the corporate world and attract some more sponsors, hoping to build this program. To date it's been fun; we've had some good runs. We still have ambition to be better, more competitive the second part of the season. Hopefully we can get off to a good start here at Daytona."

The first half of Ragan's season started with a thud in the Daytona 500 after a Lap 1 crash relegated him to a 43rd-place finish. Since then, he's been a model of consistency with an average finish of 27.1, just one DNF for engine problems at Charlotte and a seventh-place run at Talladega.

But that crash in his Front Row debut sits top of mind -- more so than his victory.

"That DNF in February certainly makes you more hungry -- that's probably more in my mind than the win," Ragan said. "That 43rd-place finish was a terrible result to what could've been a great race for us. I'm looking forward to certainly improving that and can't wait to get back on the race track and put that behind us."

Along with being the defending race champion, Saturday night marks another special occasion for Ragan -- his 200th Cup start. As with many drivers, Ragan had no idea he was at the milestone, but that doesn't mean the significance is lost.

"It's a cool accomplishment to not miss a Cup race in the last five or six years," he said. "I wish I had some more wins, more poles and more laps led to show for, but I've learned a lot; I've had a lot of fun.

"I always have motivation to get better. I feel like I'm a better driver, a smarter driver than I ever have been. I'm looking forward to the opportunities to get back in a position to contend for some race wins and a Chase spot. It's pretty cool, but even after all those races I still have a lot to learn."

And Ragan believes those race wins and Chase berths could be at Front Row. Yes, the team is still looking for its first Cup victory. Yes, the team isn't a title contender right now. But Ragan has driven for an elite Cup operation, has seen what it takes to compete at that level and would love to be a part of something special at Front Row.

"It's fun to see this side of it, they're growing and heck, in a other 10 or 15 years they may be sitting where some of the top teams are at," Ragan said with a smile. "I have motivation to be more competitive week in and week out and if that's with Front Row Motorsports, growing the team -- it would be a lot of fun to say I was a part of growing this team to the next level."

That would be a change Ragan wouldn't mind.