Much is expected of David Ragan in 2009 after having a breakthrough season in Sprint Cup in 2008. Coming within a Richmond wreck of making his first ever Chase for the Championship, the sophomore driver ended up 13th in the final standings, earning him a big-money reward in the form of new, top-tier sponsor UPS backing his No. 6 Ford Fusion.
So far, it’s been a rough start for the duo, as the third-year driver sits 22nd in the Sprint Cup standings with as many DNFs as top-10 finishes (one). But in sitting down with our own Doug Turnbull at Atlanta, it’s obvious the tough luck hasn’t been bothering the 23-year-old young talent, who dished out mature, well-thought out opinions on everything from start-and-park teams to whether Roush Fenway Racing will actually follow through and contract from five to four cars in 2010.
Doug Turnbull, Frontstretch: It’s been an up-and-down start to the year for you. Is there any extra incentive or pressure to run harder within Roush, with the teams getting cut down from five to four at the end of 2009?
David Ragan: I don’t really don’t know too much between the conversations going on between Roush Fenway and NASCAR. It seems like the rules seem to change about as often as we race. So, I don’t know exactly what will happen; it’ll be an interesting offseason. But I know UPS is signed up for a couple of years, I’m signed up for a few years, and certainly the way the economy and the way that everything is now, NASCAR’s not just going to make a team shut down. If they’ve got a team that has sponsorships and drivers and crew, we’ll change some things around and change some numbers and names on a piece of paper and we’ll keep on going. But the No. 6 car and UPS and David Ragan, we hope to be around for a long time.
Turnbull: Having UPS on board, doing commercials and being in the public eye – what’s that like to be more in the public eye?
Ragan: Well, I was a big fan of the commercials (with Dale Jarrett when Jarrett drove the UPS car). It just makes me appreciate what I get to do for a career every day. UPS has a great marketing campaign, they have a great group of employees that are smart and are good at what they do, so that’s good to have a team like that behind you.
You know, everyone asks whether that puts more pressure on me, does that make you nervous. But it doesn’t. It makes you feel more comfortable. The more people that you have that support you, the more quality people that are good at their job, the more success you’re going to have and ultimately, the more help you’re going to have. So I feel like that having that chemistry with everyone at UPS and Roush Fenway Racing just gives us more of a background to go out and do a good job.
Turnbull: You race the Nationwide Series, and there’s a few start and park teams in that series. Recently, the start-and-park phenomenon is working its way back up to Cup. What do you feel about teams that fill the field and just pull off after a couple of laps, with no intention to race the full distance?
Ragan: Well, I just think that’s part of the game. They’re doing the best they can do, just like our UPS team is doing the best we can do. It’s just at a different level. They don’t have the resources, they don’t have the foundation support, it’s just at a different level. They’re doing all they can do with what they have to work with, and you can’t get mad at them for not running capable lap times. I’ve been in their situation, and no one likes to pull in after a certain amount of laps, but the bottom line is they don’t have the money to buy the race tires, they don’t have the money to buy the pit crew, they don’t have the resources to do that kind of stuff. So, that’s just part of the world and environment that we live in.
You know, the only way they could control that is if NASCAR cut down on the teams to 35 in the Cup Series and 30 in the Nationwide Series. But I think it’s a good field. They can try to round up some money; and when they do, then they race. But they’re just doing all they can do, and no need to… I know some people give them a hard time. But it is what it is, and you just got to accept that… they’re doing their thing while we’re doing ours.
Turnbull: I noticed you mentioned trimming the car counts… are you in favor of smaller fields in NASCAR?
Ragan: I’m not necessarily in favor of having smaller fields. I’m in favor of having shorter races. I think shorter races would be better for the fans, better for the drivers, better competition, just overall it’ll keep things moving along. And if you had shorter races where the under-budget teams didn’t have to buy that extra set or two of tires, they might afford to run hard. So, as far as sending a team home every weekend that would be here, you gotta take care of the top 30-35 teams, which is a good number, but if you took everyone, every week, the same guys – how would a new team be able to come into the sport? So, I think you got to draw the line somewhere. I think it’s a good balance with the 30, 35 guaranteed spots and that leaves some extra room for different teams that are startup to come into the series. So, it’s just a deal that you just got to accept it the way it is, and it’s the same for everybody.
Turnbull: Now, after running full-time in the Nationwide Series for a couple of years, you’re only running part-time in that series this season with Erik Darnell. Are you guys more focused on the owners’ championship, or is it more of a situation where you can really let loose and try and win some races in that series?
Ragan: Oh, absolutely [I’m out to win races]. Peddle to the floor, taking some chances, winning some races. It’s very important to us. Discount Tire has been a great sponsor of ours from the get go. It’s not even a sponsor, we almost feel like we’re a partnership in that Nationwide car. That’s the first group that I’ve had that was a David Ragan partner. So, it’s been pretty special to me to hang out with them, and we want to continue that, but we’ve got a legitimate shot at the owner’s championship, Erik is going to do a good job… but it’s all about winning races now.
Turnbull: Lanier Speedway in Georgia – you went to a recent race up there back in January and ran a little bit at that short track. Is there any more of that on the horizon for you?
Ragan: Yeah, we’ll hit a few short-track races throughout the year. Whether it’s in a late model, or whether I end up racing – I’d like to race a couple of dirt races. But that’s just to continue learning and getting a better feel and learning about race cars. Anything that I can drive in a good, safe situation is a plus. But our main concern is also this UPS car and also our Discount Tire Ford. Other than that, a few races certainly down here in the south, and probably four or five races throughout the year is probably going to be all that I can do.