Joe Medley: Good to be David Ragan, at least until green flag drops
by Joe Medley
Oct 16, 2013 | 7864 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
David Ragan speaks to ESPN while at Talladega Superspeedway on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Mark Edwards/The Anniston Star)
David Ragan speaks to ESPN while at Talladega Superspeedway on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Mark Edwards/The Anniston Star)
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TALLADEGA -- David Ragan enjoyed more victory-lane treatment Wednesday.

He was back at Talladega Superspeedway, site of his second NASCAR Sprint Cup victory and his soon-to-be 250th Cup start. He met with local reporters and did an ESPN hit.

He was introduced as the returning winner to a fish-fry lunch gathering of staff and volunteers for this weekend’s NASCAR races, including the Camping World RV Sales 500 Sprint Cup race.

He came amid the day’s news that up-and-coming Front Row Motorsports will retain him and teammate David Gilliland in 2014.

It’s good to be David Ragan this week, almost as good as it was to be David Ragan leading a three-car train through the middle on a last-lap pass to victory in May’s Aaron’s 499 here.

It’s good to be David Ragan, coming back to Talladega, but with a twist.

“It definitely adds some pressure to everyone,” he said. “Certainly, when we won in May, we were a little of the underdogs. We were that guy that no one was really predicting to win.”

Now, he is the guy that any one of NASCAR’s 13 Chase for the Championship drivers might seek out as a drafting partner Sunday.

He’s also the guy that could ruin a Chaser’s day at the track known the circuit’s great equalizer.

Without a doubt, Ragan has given fans who will watch Sunday’s race another driver to watch, because both of his Cup victories have come on restrictor-plate tracks. He did it on Talladega’s 2.66-mile trioval in May and will bring back the same car, just with SaferCar.gov as his sponsor instead of Farm Rich.

He can be a player, if not in NASCAR’s Chase then at least in Sunday’s race.

“Being not in the Chase, you’re probably coming into Talladega with a little bit more pep in your step,” Ragan said. “Those Chase guys are probably nervous, coming into Talladega. They can’t be quite as aggressive or risky in their decision making as maybe we can.”

A victory at Talladega on Sunday wouldn’t just be Ragan’s third Cup victory and second this season. It would be his second top-10 finish this season and just his third top 15.

It’s good to be David Ragan coming back to Talladega because the good has come few and far between since the 27-year-old racer broke into Cup racing in 2006. The height of his career came in 2008, when he finished 13th in points under Roush-Fenway Racing.

It was the only time he finished better than 23rd, and he comes into Sunday’s race in 26th place.

He shot up to a Cup ride under Roush, one of the sport’s premier teams, at age 22. Now, he’s trying to help Front Row get there more often.

His victory at Talladega in May was Front Row’s first since it broke into the Cup circuit part-time in 2004 as Means-Jenkins Motorsports.

How much would it mean to Ragan and Front Row to add a late-season victory and make it a 2013 Talladega sweep? Double what the first victory meant.

“We had a lot of confidence with our team after that win, and I think it’s still carried,” Ragan said. “When you walk around our shop at Front Row Motorsports and see the trophy and see that banner, you see victory lane pictures, that means a lot to those employees that are working 50 hours a week, 60 hours a week building these race cars.”

As a result of that May victory, Farm Rich added races to what was a one-race deal, with more races coming in 2014.

“We introduced a new company to the sport of NASCAR,” Ragan said. “I think their website, Facebook page crashed after the race.”

He’d like to do the same for SaferCar.gov, though he couldn’t help noting the irony of timing.

“It’s kind of ironic to talk about it, being that we’re in a government shutdown,” he said.

Of course, Ragan’s capacity to win again at Talladega on Sunday depends how well he wears the mantle of a racer to watch, desirable drafting partner and potential Chase spoiler. Just how good will it be to be David Ragan, returning champion when the green flag drops?

“Now, the roles are reverse,” he said. “If we don’t run well, if we don’t have a good day, you know, I’m sure we’ll be in the spotlight soon.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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