Men like David Ragan, however, have been tested as he started on top with Roush Fenway Racing in 2007 before losing his ride following the 2011 season. In that span, Ragan found a first victory coming at Daytona International Speedway in July 2011.
From there on, the now-30-year-old transitioned from a top organization in Roush to a small team in Front Row Motorsports from 2012 to ’15. Though the change kept Ragan from contending for Chase spots, it didn’t keep him from winning as he led the team to a 1-2 sweep at Talladega in spring 2013.
The start of Speedweeks 2015 sparked a monumental shift in the Unadilla, Ga., native’s racing career as he was soon tapped to take over Kyle Busch‘s Joe Gibbs Racing ride for nine races – grabbing a best finish of fifth at Martinsville before joining Michael Waltrip Racing for the final 26 races of the year.
Describing it as an 11th-hour move, Ragan – in BK Racing‘s No. 23 Toyota – now puts on his Dr Pepper hat before the 2016 season with the same smile he had in 2007 with Roush.
Frontstretch spoke with Ragan Saturday at Daytona to talk about his move to BK Racing, time with Michael Waltrip and his realistic expectations for 2016 and beyond.
Zach Catanzareti, Frontstretch: Have you ever really seen anything like this with Daytona Rising?
David Ragan: Obviously, this is the first time in our sport that we’ve really seen an overhauling. I think some of the others tacks are really close. Las Vegas has a great spot, Charlotte Motor Speedway always does a lot of things for the fans. But what Daytona has done with the frontstretch area, it’s certainly… the combinations for the fans is second to none [in] the entire country as far as sports stadiums go.
Catanzareti: When it comes to a sold-out crowd, do you ever take notice of that kind of stuff when you’re racing?
Ragan: You definitely notice in the pre-event, pre-festivities. driver intros, making laps around the race track. Once you get strapped into the car, it’s kind of tough to see. But before the event, you can definitely feel it. It’s great to see the stands full.
Catanzareti: You got to take that classic photo on pit road on Sunday. Was that cool?
Ragan: That was neat. I grew up watching my dad and a lot of other race heroes take that photo so it was great to get to do it for myself.
Catanzareti: This past year, there have been a lot of huge shifts for you. Do you see it as a big learning experience more than anything?
Ragan: Yeah, for me, I’m 30 years old. Still happy to be a part of this sport. I feel like I still have some good years left in front of me. The opportunity with BK was great timing that I can come over and help them get to the next level competition on and off the race track. It provides me a spot to keep racing and stay full time in the Sprint Cup Series.
Catanzareti: Can you describe the sequence of events when it came to getting this deal together?
Ragan: Really, just talking to Ron Devine and their ownership group at BK Racing. The Sprint Cup Series, with reducing to 40 cars and a couple of teams going away, there was really a lot more quality drivers who were looking for rides than what seats were available. You really had to work hard to put some deals together and reach out to a lot of these car owners. Things came together in the 11th hour but I’m glad they did.
Catanzareti: You’ve come here with Roush, you’ve come here with big teams. Now, you’re here with BK. Is the mindset any different or do you have full expectations to have the same goal?
Ragan: Our goals are the same. To run the best race we can and put ourselves in contention for the win. But you do have to race a little differently. Our car doesn’t have the speed that the top 10 or top 12 cars have so I have to be a little more patient. I’ve got to pick and choose when to be aggressive and when [to] not.
The guys that are driving the top five-to-10 fast cars down here, they can make their moves at more opportunities. They just have better speed and can do better things on their own versus I have to have some good help and timing has to be on my side.Catanzareti: How do you feel about your teammates? You got Michael Waltrip then two younger drivers. How has it been this week?
Ragan: Michael is as good as anyone when it comes to Daytona and Talladega and certainly has a lot of experience. Robert [Richardson, Jr.], this is his only race of the year so I’ve been trying to work with him some. He’s got a lot of experience in stock cars maybe not the Daytona 500. Matt [DiBenedetto], [it’s] knowing we’re going to be racing each other a lot. Definitely working with Matt some this weekend. Tried to give him some pointers and some things I’ve learned over the years. He’s pretty smart so he’s been able to do things well right off the bat.
Catanzareti: It’s a unique circumstance, you and Waltrip. He was your car owner and now he’s your teammate on the track. Is that odd?
Ragan: It’s not that odd, it’s very similar. I got to race with Michael at Talladega last year. Michael is a good guy, he’s a big part of this sport and glad to have him on the team.
Catanzareti: He’s done a lot of things with FOX and you are on Race Hub every so often. Talk about that experience being on Race Hub and being in front of a camera.
Ragan: I love being on Race Hub with my relationship with FOX and FOX Sports 1. It’s been a lot of fun to see that side of the sport. I really got educated on the ins and outs from the TV perspective. They have great coverage from all of the top three national series. I really enjoy getting to tell not only our story at BK Racing in the Sprint Cup Series but just tell the story of all the different series and what’s going on. [Also] connect with a lot of fans that otherwise I wouldn’t get to connect with besides just making laps and making circles.
Catanzareti: Go back a minute to the 2007 Daytona 500. They wreck off turn 4 and you come out with a top-5 finish. What did that experience mean to you?
Ragan: That was a big race for me. Obviously, it was my first Daytona 500, my first top 5 down here. It was a tough race. I know we wrecked our primary car on Thursday [and] had to start toward the back in a back-up car.
It was a survival. Obviously, we made the right moves at the right times. Was running in the top 15 in the closing laps, dodged the wrecks and came out of here with a top 5. Very, very good opportunity that we made the most of. It was something I would always remember about my first Daytona 500. But certainly a dramatic finish.
Catanzareti: By the time we get to Homestead and you look back on 2016, what would you call a good season looking back?
Ragan: I think if we can improve BK Racing’s performance on track from five to seven positions on average every week. If we can contend for a few top 5s and top 10s throughout the year, I think that’s been a great season.
It’s unrealistic to think we can go out and win a championship and win five races but we’re certainly going to work hard to shoot to do that. There’s a lot of competition in the Cup Series. We just want to improve, noticeably move the needle from last year.