David Ragan heads to Daytona as most recent plate race winner

The last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ran a restrictor plate race — May 5, 2013, at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway — David Ragan ended the day in victory lane after handing Front Row Motorsports its first win from behind the wheel of the No. 34 FRM Ford. It was Ragan’s second-career win at the Sprint Cup level, with his first coming in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July 2011. He was driving the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing then.

The Sprint Cup Series circuit returns to Daytona this weekend for the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night. On Tuesday, Ragan participated in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference to discuss, among other things, his recent win at Talladega and his previous victory at Daytona. Here’s a transcript:

YOU GOT YOUR FIRST NSCS WIN IN THIS EVENT IN 2011. DO YOU THINK OF THOSE MEMORIES WHEN YOU DRIVE THROUGH THE TUNNEL? “Yes, absolutely. Daytona is a special place for me and my family. Obviously, it was my first-ever Daytona 500. Daytona is a special place in general, but certainly having been to Victory Lane there makes it extra special. You’ve got confidence going into that race knowing that you’ve been there and done that. You know when to go hard and when to be conservative, so I always have a lot of fond memories of Daytona Speedweeks in February and certainly the July race. I’ll have those same feeling and emotions I’m sure when I drive through the tunnel the first time this week.”

WAS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU KNEW YOU COULD DO THIS FOR A LIVING? “I guess my first Daytona 500. Certainly you have that feeling over the years, if you’re referring to my whole career, and whether it be a late model stock or an ARCA Series car maybe even a truck where you have a good day and get that first win, but, really, my rookie season in ’07. We went to Daytona and finished fifth in the 500 and that was when I felt like, ‘Man, this is the Daytona 500 and we got a top-five.’ We maybe had a shot to win, but I didn’t even realize what I was doing, really. You look back at it six months down the road and a year down the road and realize how special of a day that was, but the ’07 500 is probably the first time in a Sprint Cup car that I felt like, ‘Man, this is where I need to be. I feel comfortable,’ and I was at ease after that race knowing that I could compete with the best.”

WAS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU WERE REAL YOUNG THAT YOU COULD DO THIS? “Yeah, I guess your first-ever race. I can remember my first-ever race in a little Bandelero car. I was probably 12 years old or so and I bent a spindle in practice after knocking bumpers with someone and we fixed it. I thought I had destroyed the car. I didn’t know much about how a car goes together and dad said, ‘No, that’s a small part. You can fix this pretty easy.’ So he fixed it and we went back out and ran second or third and thought, ‘Man, this is kind of interesting. It’s fun. It’s neat. I can make good decisions. I can’t wreck my car, but we can overcome obstacles, so even as a young kid you have situations where you gain experience and confidence. It’s a small building block. It never just happens in one race.”

WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE OF KEEPING YOUR CAR CLEAN AND OUT OF TROUBLE IN A RESTRICTOR PLATE RACE WHILE POSITIONING YOURSELF TO BE THERE AT THE END? “There’s a lot of strategy to being around at the end of these speedway races. There are different strategies for different teams, different manufacturers, what your strong suits are and what your weaknesses are. I’m at Front Row Motorsports today and we just got out of a meeting talking about what our strategies are for the weekend and some of the things that we look at is the Daytona race in July is a lot different than the 500-mile race in February. The temperature and obviously the distance is 100 miles less, and the racing is a little different. I was wrecked in 2012 on the first lap of the Daytona 500 and I believe in the summer race of 2012 I was wrecked in the last five laps, so you look at both of those races and think about what you did right and what you did wrong. All I can say is a lot of it is a gut decision. In my opinion, you can’t sit here on a Tuesday or even on a Thursday or Friday and have a plan and stick to it. You’ve got to make decisions as the flow of the race changes. If they have a big wreck early in the race and there are only 25 cars running, then your strategy changes. If there are 40 cars still running at the end of the race with 50 laps to go, your strategy changes again, so you’ve got to know all the factors and rely on your crew chief and your spotter and your own judgment and try to make the best decision you can. We’ll try to look at all those factors. I’ll know what kind of car I’ll have, whether it’s a very, very fast car or an average car whether it’s been in a tight pack or by itself and weigh-in all those factors and ultimately it’s up to me to make the best decision and hopefully I’ll prepare myself enough where I can make a good decision. If we’re still in contention at the end of the race, I feel like my chances are as good as any of making the right moves in the closing laps of the race.”

HOW DID YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE HELP AT TALLADEGA EARLIER THIS YEAR? “I think the races are really different at Daytona and Talladega. Obviously, the size of the track, the width of the track is different. Daytona and Talladega were both 500-mile races. It’s a lot easier to pass. It’s wider so you can maneuver. Handling doesn’t matter as much, so you can take two tires, you can take no tires very often and you’re still fine, but Daytona is the opposite. I think the only thing in my back pocket from those speedway wins is maybe some confidence in the other drivers’ eyes that, ‘Hey, David can make a good decision. We can stick with him. I feel comfortable drafting with him.’ I think that’s the only thing we can really take as far as a decision late in the race or how our car is handling or strategy. I think that is all kind of a game-time decision because you can’t forecast exactly what’s gonna happen three or four days out. So hopefully the guys will still remember that win and they’re comfortable drafting with me. I’ve got a lot of friends, so that’s a good thing. It worked out perfect having David Gilliland as a teammate right behind me. I knew what he was gonna do without even having to ask or think about it, so if that happens again that would certainly be positive for us. I’m looking forward to getting there on Thursday and practicing some, and then we’ll have a lot better idea of what our strategy will be and what kind of car we’ll have and how aggressive I can be or how conservative I’ll have to be throughout the night.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A CONCRETE TRACK TO AN ASPHALT TRACK? “A lot of it has to do with how the track surface changes in reference to the temperature. Asphalt, obviously being black, I don’t know how the materials are different but it changes temperature a lot quicker than concrete does. With all the rubber being laid down and the grip that you have, or may not have, changes drastically with the amount of cloud cover and the outside ambient air temperature, so that’s the issue that you have tuning your car at an asphalt race track. And it tends to wear differently over time, depending on what region of the country you’re in, what mixture was used when the asphalt was laid down. It’s very different in Darlington, South Carolina versus Chicago or Kansas City, so those tracks change different over time, but a concrete track like Dover or Martinsville, where the concrete is obviously in the corners, or Nashville Superspeedway stays pretty much the same. Year after year it doesn’t change a whole lot. The temperature doesn’t have a whole lot of effect to it. The only thing that affects how the car is balanced is what type of tire Goodyear brings, so that’s what you have to chase.”

DOES THE CURRENT TRACK SURFACE AT KENTUCKY RACE MORE LIKE A CONCRETE TRACK? “I think Kentucky is to a point where it still races more a lot like an asphalt track. Obviously that is what it is, but it has been ground several times, so the asphalt in my opinion it stayed pretty similar to last year. It gets worn out to a point where you can’t wear it out anymore, I think, which is great. It would be very boring to go to 36 races a year where they’re all very smooth with no bumps and a lot of grip, so I think it’s great to have different levels of track surfaces that have been repaved at different points throughout the years and face different challenges. That’s what makes different guys competitive and the racing is fun and challenging at the same time.”


– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR

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