David Ragan is taking what may be his last Daytona 500 start seriously, but he wasted no time acknowledging that this one feels different.
“[I] feel a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more laid back, I didn’t even shave for a few days when I first got down here” Ragan told Frontstretch. “You know, you don’t have as much to worry about.
“A lot of times, in my case over the years you’re focused on Daytona, but you’re more worried about the season. You know, how’s your downforce stuff for Vegas? How’s your stuff for Atlanta? How’s your pit crew and stuff? You’re already thinking about the schedule and how to race for points and a playoff spot.
“It is refreshing to come down here and just think about the Daytona 500.”
Speaking of thoughts, my first question to Ragan was about how he intended to balance being in his last race with driving in the Blue Oval brigade, wheeling a car for a manufacturer that has put teamwork in superspeedway racing paramount the past few years. Ragan’s former teammate Michael McDowell found himself on the wrong side of that coin in the 500 one year ago, incurring the wrath of Joey Logano for not providing drafting help in the closing laps.
Ragan’s answer was politically correct, but he had a sly grin in delivering it.
“I’m still a member of the Ford family” he said. “It’s important in the current day that we live in that you need to work together to win this race. I think that’s the smartest way…
“I think we’ve got a higher probability of having good track position at the end if we work together as a manufacturer. Obviously I am here to win the race for myself and my team, but in order to get to that point I’ve got to be a team player throughout the race.
“The last 2-3 laps it’s every man for themselves.”
Every man for himself is not the story that’s got Ragan leaving the cockpit after Speedweeks. When asked if had a bucket list in much the same way as Jimmie Johnson, a soon-to-be fellow retiree, Ragan’s first reply was “to be a good husband and father.”
“I wan to put my family and my kids first” said Ragan. “[But] in the spare time I have, yes, I’ll be around the racetrack a little bit.”
What form that spare time takes is up in the air.
“I came down for the 24 hours [of Daytona] just to walk around and meet a few people, I would love to get my feet wet in a few sports car races” he said. “I’ve still got a legends car that I’d love to go out and run a few races with.
Appraising himself, Ragan noted “I’m still healthy and young, and I love motorsports, I love racing. So, I’ll probably race on occasion.”
“Mark Martin could still step into a car and still do a good job. But it’s a drain being on the road 38-40 weeks a year.”
That drain comes to an end Sunday, at least for now.