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Quiet-spoken David Ragan, Jack Roush's pick to replace legendary Mark Martin, is ready for a breakout


David Ragan: Ready for that first Cup win (Photo: Autostock)


By Mike Mulhern

   David Ragan has come a long way since that afternoon at Martinsville, when, as a rookie, he earned Tony Stewart's wrath as 'a dart without feathers.'
   Now Ragan, under the command of veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig, that crusty old-school guy who first came to prominence with Bobby Allison in his heyday, is on the verge of that breakthrough NASCAR victory.
   By the last half of 2008 Ragan and Fennig were a top-five team much of the time, careful not to make mistakes, and they just missed making the championship playoff cut.
    And Ragan just turned 23. A lot of upside potential here, clearly.
   The irony of Ragan's situation, getting a plumb ride with one of the sport's top dogs, is not lost on him. He knows his father, Ken Ragan, never had a shot like this during his journeyman career, 1983 through 1990.
   "Every day we talk, he makes a comment about the Roush group and our team and how fortunate I am," David Ragan says.
   "He loved racing just as much as I did but never had that opportunity like I've got.
   "He's certainly opened a lot of doors for me…and I know if he had the opportunities I'm having now, he would have won some races.
    "But he was just a parts guy in the South who had a lot of cotton and peanut farmers working on his race cars."
   This season Ragan will almost certainly get that first Sprint Cup tour win. But more than that, he's focused on making the top-12 playoff cut:
   "Absolutely," Ragan says. "We think about the chase.  We're not going to crunch numbers every weekend like I’m in calculus class and have all these formulas that we have to do to finish in the top-12 at Richmond (in September). But the bottom line is if we can average a 10th or 12th-place finish all year, not have any DNFs, and be fast, we're going to be in the chase.
   "We can compare our numbers to last year, and to other people that have been in the chase, but that is something we think a lot about. 
   "That is our goal this year."
   Of course after a year like 2008 Ragan and Fennig could fall victim to their high expectations. And last year even Jeff Gordon went winless.
   However Ragan, like Kyle Busch, has matured tremendously over the past year or so.
  "I appreciate the high expectations, though, yes, that does put extra pressure on you to perform," Ragan said.
   Well, let's see how Ragan performs in those UPS commercials.
   Remember how well the droll Dale Jarrett did in those?
   Well, now it's Ragan's turn….though car owner Jack Roush may be the guy with the humor.

Jimmy Fennig, who comes from the Bobby Allison school of racing, is patiently mentoring David Ragan. Okay, so maybe not so patiently....
(Photo: Autostock)

Optimism reigns supreme in nearly every NASCAR camp at the moment. On Fennig's team "I think some of the guys are thinking championship," Ragan concedes. "But we're not thinking that.
   "We've got to take small steps. 
    "It's mandatory to win a race this year. We'll be devastated if we complete the season without a win. 
    "We know we can make the chase.  We know we can win races.
    "It's just a matter of having that good feel week-in and week-out with the car and the team…and just being comfortable."
   One point – Ford's new engine. Just when it will debut on the tour is not set. And how it will work is unclear; it's also part of an aerodynamic package – and it's hard not to forget how that deal blew up in Dodge's face a few years back.
   "A lot of new technology has gone into the new engine," Ragan says. "Not only the horsepower, but the other small things -- like the water-flow technology (cooling channels inside the block), and the construction of the engine, to make it easier to work around it. That will help us set up the cars a little different with our aero package (more tape on the grill, thus more downforce on the nose, thus better turning in the corners).
   "The horsepower is what everybody thinks about, but there are four or five other things that go along with that engine that will help us too."
   In fact it appears that the call to go to the new engine will depend more on handling issues than power-band issues. "I'll let Jimmy Fennig make that decision," Ragan said.
   Of course, if the Roush guys are as tough at the start of this season as they were at the start of 2008 – and down the stretch too – then the new tricks can probably sit on the shelf for a while.
   "You want the greatest, newest piece you can have…but sometimes a little risk comes with that," Ragan says. "Anything that's new….
   "But Jimmy will be the one who makes that decision.
    "Certainly the engines we have now are bulletproof. And they make good power.  We haven't had an engine failure in two years on the Cup side with our team."
   Knock on wood.


David Ragan: Ready to win...but what about those UPS TV commercials? (Photo: Autostock)


Dodge Engine

Mike, you mention the Dodge engine - don't forget NASCAR took away the cylinder width they'd started with and they still haven't recovered from that.

Dodge does have problems.....

Whoa, man -- that Dodge deal was back in the summer of 2002. I'd hope Dodge engineers have recovered by now. And to check those chassis dyno numbers from Roger Penske's stuff, Dodge has plenty of horsepower. The engine wasn't the problem for Dodge; in my opinion, it was team organization -- Dodge teams, in general, simply haven't had cohesive leadership, not like the Hendrick bunch and the Roush bunch and the Childress bunch. Plus, I remember that Dodge nose that Detroit worked so hard on, a few years back, only to miss out on word that NASCAR was plannning some aerodynamic changes. I've been trying to find Mike Accavitti for a couple of months to ask him some questions....like how he let Juan Pablo Montoya get away to Chevrolet. Of course we could simply blame it on Bob Nardelli, who got so razzed for those troubles at Home Depot......Me, I'd say 'Roger Penske, if you're so big in the business, how did you let all this get to be like this?' After all, Penske knows the biggies on a first-name basis; he could change anything, if he wanted, but he's seemed oddly disconnected from the NASCAR world for a couple years now....

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