Tag: David Ragan

Who Will NOT Be Filling In For Tony Stewart

News came out earlier this week Tony Stewart was involved in a “non-racing” accident (because that makes it better for us to take? Weird emphasis on “non-racing” on nearly every press release) and will miss significant time after sustaining a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. This will take a substantial amount of time to heal, thus opening the door for a replacement driver in the #14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

And with any opening in NASCAR, fans go crazy with off the wall suggestions for who should take over. With those in mind, here is a list of drivers who will NOT be driving for Tony Stewart in 2016.

Jeff Gordon: Recently retired and signed up to call races on FOX, Gordon WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Not it’s not really the FOX deal, as they would love for someone to call a race in a race, it’s the fact Gordon owns half of the #48 and part of the #24 cars for Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR rules prohibit someone from owning part of a team that has four cars to then drive for another organization, never mind the Hendrick to Stewart-Haas connection. This is the same reason why JR Motorsports will never go to Cup nor Kyle Busch Motorsports. That is unless Dale Earnhardt Jr or Kyle Busch drive for their own teams. That aside, there is no way Gordon is selling his stake in Hendrick Motorsports to drive half a year or even just the Daytona 500.

Mark Martin: Martin already has filled in for Stewart before, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart in 2016. He has retired and has no desire to drive anymore, saying as much on Twitter earlier this week. Poor Martin, he has bombarded with so many fan inquiries I would blame him from never logging on Twitter ever again.

Jeff Burton: Burton, like Martin has filled in for Stewart before. And like Gordon, has a TV deal that he’s currently working on. Like Martin again, he took to Twitter to tell fans he WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

John Hunter Nemechek: Not sure where this originated from, but John Hunter Nemechek WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Nemechek just turned 18 last season, which means he can finally run on large tracks, and I’m pretty sure there’s a large one to start the season. I can’t imagine SHR would want to rotate through a handful of drivers while Stewart recovers. And given Nemechek’s lack of experience, even in the Truck Series, and that is not a winning recipe.

Jeremy Mayfield: Even weirder than the Nemechek push has been the one for Jeremy Mayfield. Sorry folks, but Mayfield WILL NOT drive for Stewart. The driver who is better known for meth and burglary has been a heartwarming story of redemption trying to fight his way back into racing. That said, never mind “meth” and “burglary” being synonymous with his name (right or wrong), he hasn’t driven in the Cup Series since they had the Car of Tomorrow. Too much of a learning curve for him to try and make up for, plus that and still being suspended by NASCAR will hold him back.

Brian Vickers: Vickers is an interesting case because he when given good equipment, he can excel. That being said, Vickers WILL NOT drive for Stewart. One year removed having to stop racing while on blood thinners, not much has been heard from Vickers outside some studio time at NBC. Given his name came up exactly zero times this offseason as a driver who could go into an empty ride, I believe his racing career has come and gone. Add to that the unknown of if he has to step away again due to the blood clots and we’re back to SHR not wanting to flip-flop drivers every week.

Alex Bowman: Alex Bowman finds himself in an odd place in NASCAR, Cup Series owner Tommy Baldwin showed now faith in him and dumped him a week ago for Regan Smith. On the other side, Dale Earnhardt Jr sees potential with Bowman and inked him to five Xfinity Series races this upcoming season. One could argue that Stewart could see something in Bowman that Junior sees, but reality says Bowman WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

Clint Bowyer: While Bowyer will drive for Stewart, as his successor, in 2017, this year he WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Too much was done to get him over to HScott Motorsports for one year to then nix that deal to run him half of this year. If they knew Stewart was out for the full year, maybe, but with sponsors involved this one is a no go.

David Ragan: Ragan WILL NOT drive for Stewart. This isn’t so much because Ragan signed with BK Racing, it’s more because no one seems to want Ragan. He was spurned by Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports (twice!), Front Row Motorsports didn’t want him back after he left last year, and no other team had a fleeting interest in Ragan. That said, he does have one big fan who assumes every open seat is Ragan’s…good thing this guy isn’t in the media.

Parker Kligerman: Kligerman WILL NOT drive for Stewart. No talk of him doing it, just trying to justify using his image for the article. While he did work as a backup plan if Kurt Busch was late coming back to the Daytona 500, Kligerman has hitched his wagon on the NBC train while dabbling in the Truck Series. With no Cup experience, he would be very far down the list. He ran for Swan Racing, which everyone has since forgot about.

Ryan Ellis: Bwahahahaha.

Ty Dillon: Dillon’s name has gotten a lot of steam as a replacement, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart…in the Daytona 500. He already has a deal with Leavine Circle Family Sport Racing (whoops, Leavine Family Circle Sport Racing…or is it Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing?) to run the 500 with Cheerios as a sponsor. You could argue they could move primary driver Michael McDowell to that ride and let Dillon go, but I don’t see that happening. After Daytona, however, I could see him being a good substitute for Stewart. And it’ll be fun to see him paired with Kevin Harvick as a teammate.

Too Fast, Too Soon?

Kyle_Larson_13_Feature

During the offseason Joey Logano looked back at his career and admitted what some people were thinking. Maybe going into Sprint Cup racing at age 19 was not the best decision, but it was not one he regrets. While I was unable to talk to Joey specifically about his comments, I was able to catch up with David Ragan, Blake Koch, and Kyle Larson to get their opinion on their experience rising through the ranks.

David Ragan was relatively unknown, running a handful of NASCAR Camping World and Nationwide Series races. Then at age 21, he was named the driver of the #6 Ford for Roush Racing. If that was not intimidating enough, add in that he was replacing a legend in that ride, Mark Martin.

Was it too fast of an ascension for him?

“I was definitely not ready for a full-time Cup series ride. The previous series I ran full-time in before was legends car series in 2002,” says Ragan. “I was fast enough to go fast, but not mature enough to finish these 500/600 mile races and to race for points over the course of a year.”  The greatest factor maturity plays in racing is the ability to race for points, because, like we all know, it is the points that crown you champion of the series at the end of the season. So where it is important to drive fast to win a race, it is equally important to have consistency to win race after race, which is where mature focus comes in.

There are a couple of ways to reach that level of maturity before racing Sprint Cup fulltime. Ragan states, “Looking back I would definitely change things: run Trucks for a couple of years, Nationwide for a year and learn how to points race; learn how to race at these tracks.” He brings up a good point that having more experience working as a team and racing on the same tracks is what allows a driver to gain confidence while maintaining a stable and mature nature on the track. As each track differs from the next, it is important to understand the ins and outs of each for successful preparation that allows the team to gain points, not just win.

When we were young, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. As adults, some of us adjusted our dreams to be realistic, but for a select few their dreams came true. Now despite your age, would you ever turn down the opportunity to live your dream? Majority vote is no. “In this day and age when you’re given an opportunity, you can’t look back; you have to make the best of it. It was tough for a couple of years,” comments Ragan.

Lately in NASCAR, there have been less and less of those opportunities for new, young drivers, teams, and manufacturers to enter the scene. Ragan explains, “With the current structure of the Sprint Cup Series and the economy the way it is, it isn’t really acceptable to new teams, drivers, and owners. You see a lot of drivers staying for 10-15 years, and there’s only a couple of rides open each year. If you don’t cut the grade soon, you’re usually left behind.” With this small window of opportunity, it makes sense why young drivers would not decline an offer even if they feel they are not ready.

Blake Koch took a different path to NASCAR. He started out racing motocross, but after some injuries decided that it was not for him. “I stopped and went to college. My step-dad bought me a car for a local track. I tried it out and fell in love with it.” In 2008 he placed a series of calls to different teams about getting on their developmental programs. One team listened: Richard Childress Racing.

Koch went through a handful of starts before getting a full-time Nationwide Series ride in 2011. Then part-way through 2012, he lost ride. That put Koch in a precarious position of what he wanted to do. He could continue to chase his dream, or give up for a regular job away from racing. He decided to plug on. “I had the opportunity to do a start and park car, and I said ‘no, I don’t want to do it. It is too early in my career, I don’t want to be labeled as a start and park driver.’ Then two weeks later when my mortgage was due, I realized it was something I might have to do.”

That was not all he was doing those weekends, “sometimes I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome, starting and parking a truck, and doing some spotting on the Cup side,” stated Koch. That perseverance has paid off with a full-time ride with SR2 Motorsports this year.

Previous experience with former development drivers might be working into the fortunes of Kyle Larson. He is a developmental driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, has spent 2013 driving for Turner-Scott Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. ”You can’t turn down opportunities like that (driving for EGR/TSM), but Chip Ganassi (team owner) won’t move me up if I’m not ready. I’m just going to try to do the best I can and learn as much as I can to try and be prepared if he throws me in a Cup car,” said Larson.

That call came Friday when Ganassi announced Larson as the new driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet. Both Ganassi and Larson sounded ok with dealing with the growing pains that will come. “I think Kyle is the kind of driver, when he sees an opportunity in front of him, he takes it.  If that means it’s a win, hey, great.  There’s no pressure for him to win his first year out,” said Ganassi Friday.

Larson even had a little bit of time to reflect on going from K&N East Series champion to Sprint Cup Series regular in under two years. “It’s definitely been quite a whirlwind.  I was walking over here saying a year ago today I was making my second Truck start.  It’s been a really quick road.  But I feel like I’ve done okay with it and learned quite a bit. As far as next year goes, I know I’ll have to focus more on the Sprint Cup stuff.  I understand it’s probably going to be the toughest step in my whole career.  I’m going to have to dedicate a lot of time to it and grow as a driver, do a great job for Target, for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and make everybody there happy.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.

Ragan Looking To Turn Up The Heat At Atlanta

David_Ragan_13_Peanut_Patch

David Ragan is riding the momentum of a 12th place finish last weekend at the Bristol Motor Speedway into his home track, the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He will be looking to turn up the heat on the competition courtesy of his sponsor for this race, Peanut Patch Hot Boiled Peanuts.

The Cajun-spiced snacks are the perfect mix with the action under the lights for Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500. Ragan and his Front Row Motorsports team are looking to improve on that 12th place finish.

“Atlanta Motor Speedway is a challenging racetrack even though it appears to be very similar to Charlotte or Texas or even Chicago and Kansas somewhat.  That asphalt is just really wore out and it’s just very hard on the tires.  It drives a lot differently than those other tracks.  It is a 1.5-mile tri-oval but it’s a lot different than the others,” commented Ragan.

The secret to his success will be getting his car to handle with new and old tires. Getting that dialed in will be key for what is a big race for the driver, team, and sponsor. “We really have to work hard at getting our car to handle well on old tires.  Five hundred miles at Atlanta is one of the longest races of the year.  It seems like it goes on forever.  It’s a tough race, but I always look forward to it because it’s in my backyard.  I love being back home in Georgia.  It’s a big race for our sponsor, Peanut Patch Hot Boiled Peanuts, and for our team owner, Bob Jenkins.  It’s going to be a fun weekend and we’re looking forward to it.”

Atlanta is a very unique track that has similar sister tracks in Charlotte and Texas. When it’s all said and done, Atlanta is its own beast.

“Atlanta is one of the raciest mile-and-a-half’s we go to just because of the fact that there’s multiple grooves and the tires fall off a lot.  Charlotte is very, very close, and Texas is very, very close.  They’ve aged well since they’ve been paved years ago.  But Atlanta has some characteristics that make it tough.  You’ve got guys that can run the bottom, run the middle and run the very top.  You’ve got guys that are good on new tires for a few laps but then the tires wear out, and then you see a different group of guys that are fast.  I think it’s got a lot of different characteristics that make for a good race,”  explained Ragan.

The action gets underway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night at 7:30. All the action from the Atlanta Motor Speedway can be seen on ESPN.