RICHMOND, V.A. (September 7, 2008) – Everyone puts all the pressure on the final race to make the Chase, but for Ragan it didn’t just come down to Richmond. Ragan has given it his all the entire season, which put him in Chase contention heading into 400 laps at Richmond. The No. 6 AAA Ford was fast in practice, but when it came time to qualify on Friday tropical storm Hanna decided to visit the Richmond area and stay for awhile. The rain from the storm caused NASCAR to cancel qualifying and postpone both the Nationwide race and Sprint Cup race, leaving them to run a double-header on Sunday. Ragan started 13th with the field being set on points and had a fast Ford for the first 100 laps. Trouble started on lap 120 when Ragan got into something on the track and lost control, collecting teammate Matt Kenseth. From there it was an uphill battle fixing sheet metal and battling grip. Eventual contact with the No. 01 would leave them with a tire rub that would set Ragan back in the field for the final time. Ragan did all he could do in an important points race to maintain track position, but in the end was left with a 32nd-place finish.
Ragan headed to Richmond a reachable 17 points out of 12th place and had a fast AAA Ford in Friday’s practice session. In the teams mock qualifying run they ranked second on the chart and were excited to make a run at the pole position. Unfortunately tropical storm Hanna came to town, raining out qualifying for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. No qualifying set Ragan up 13th for the drop of the green flag on Sunday.
Right from the start Ragan began to move forward through the field and was up to eighth place 35 laps in when NASCAR threw a “competition caution” due to the green track conditions from all the rain. Ragan reported to his crew that the front was turning really well, but he needed a little more rear grip. Ragan pitted under the caution for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure adjustment. Ragan got blocked in by the car pitting in front of him as he tried to pull out of his box which cost him valuable track position on pit road.
Ragan restarted 13th due to the incident, but continued to hover around the top 15. The second caution was displayed on lap 96. The balance was still pretty good and Ragan didn’t want any changes. He came in for four tires and fuel. This time he got right out of his pit stall and restarted eighth on lap 103. Ragan had gained one spot and was up to 11th by lap 120 when his bad luck would begin.
Ragan got loose and turned sideways, making contact with the wall and fellow Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth. Contact between the two brought out the caution and sent Ragan down pit road for damage repair. The team went to work fixing the repairs, while spotter Tony Hirschman kept an eye on the pace car so they didn’t go a lap down. Crew chief Jimmy Fennig was able to keep Ragan on the lead lap, but he was left restarting 30th on lap 128.
Ragan continued to struggle with the damage on his AAA Ford and just went a lap down when the caution came out on lap 164 putting him in the “lucky dog” position and back on the lead lap. The car was now extremely loose, so under caution Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel and wedge adjustment and to have some more tape put on his damage sheet metal. He restarted 29th on lap 170 to continue his battle with handling and track position.
The changes helped, but Ragan continued to struggle with a lack of grip. Ragan pitted two more times for fuel, tires and wedge adjustments which allowed him to stay out under caution on lap 243 while the leaders pitted. Ragan jumped from running 25th up to eighth. The field restarted on lap 247 and Ragan did all he could to hold off the people with fresh tires.
By lap 333 Ragan had dropped back to 18th and was making a pass on the No. 01 who had the No. 07 on the inside of him. The No. 07 pushed the No. 01 up into Ragan pushing in the left-front fender. The damage caused a tire rub and caused Ragan to loose even more track position. Ragan held onto his Ford until the next caution came out on lap 359. He was back in 32nd position and came down pit road under caution for repairs, four tires and fuel. Ragan restarted the race on lap 365 in the 28th position.
With a little over 100-laps to go Ragan tried to make up lost track position. Unfortunately the multiple on-track incidents had taken their toll on the handling of the AAA Ford. Ragan battled an extremely loose race car to a 32nd-place finish and ended his hopes of making the field for the 2008 Chase for the Championship.
“It’s very disappointing.” said Ragan. “I felt like the first 100 or so laps we had a top five car and the AAA Ford seemed to be pretty quick. It just seemed to turn a corner sometime after lap 100 there we didn’t have they speed. We brought out that one caution and seemed to have poor track position and the car really fell off on the long run. We’ll have to get it back and check things over and see if anything crazy happened, but a good effort by the AAA team and certainly this one race doesn’t dictate how our season has gone. We’ve got 10 more races to try and get a win and certainly to finish 13th in points is our goal now, but running back there 30th and 25th, you don’t deserve to make the chase running like that.”
1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Sunday, September 14, 2008