AVONDALE, Ariz. (April 18, 2009) – Ragan and crew looked forward to Saturday night short-track racing under the lights at Phoenix International Raceway and coming off a top-10 finish in the fall, all signs pointed towards a repeat performance. The No. 6 UPS Ford was solid in practice and qualified 14th for the 312-lap event. When it came time to race however, the car just wouldn’t handle right. Ragan lost ground on restarts and struggled with the handling throughout the turns. A green flag pit stop and a super-fast eventual race winner, Mark Martin, caught Ragan one-lap down to the leaders. The caution never fell when Ragan was in the “lucky dog” position, leaving him with a 22nd-place finish in the desert.
Friday was a busy time around the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage area. The teams had two back-to-back practice sessions, each almost two-hours long, in preparation for qualifying later that evening. The No. 6 UPS Ford was fast in both sessions and a late qualifying draw would work to their advantage, since the track cools off as the day goes on. Ragan went out for his two lap qualifying effort and put the UPS Ford in the 14th starting position.
At the drop of the green flag Ragan quickly gained two spots on the track, but lost them as quickly as he had gained them. He settled into 16th until the first caution of the day came out on lap 54. Ragan reported to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the UPS Ford was “tight through the center and free up off.” Fennig directed Ragan down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Ragan’s over-the-wall team was on their game and gained Ragan four positions on pit road. The field resumed green flag racing on lap 60 with Ragan sitting 12th.
Handling problems continued to plague Ragan and he lost valuable track position. The second caution came on lap 102 with Ragan back in the 17th position. Ragan told his crew the previous change they had made did not help and he needed more forward bite through the center of the turns. Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Ragan’s team picked him up two spots on pit road, putting Ragan 15th for the restart on lap 109.
Two more pit stops under caution ensued and each time Ragan received four tires, fuel, air pressure and track bar adjustments in an attempt to get the UPS Ford handling the way Ragan needed it to, but nothing seemed to do the trick. A lugnut came off the right-rear tire on one of the stops, costing Ragan valuable track position.
Next in store for Ragan and crew was a long green flag run. Handling continued to be an issue for Ragan as the race continued and a series of green flag pit stops was about to cycle through the field. Ragan reported to his crew that their last change helped him in the middle of the turns, but hurt his forward bite up off. Ragan came in for green flag service on lap 242 and received four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. The leaders lapped Ragan and a few others, leaving everyone to vie for the “lucky dog” position. A task easier said then done with an ill-handling race car.
The final caution of the day came out in the closing laps of the race with the No. 6 not being in the “lucky dog” position. With nothing to loose, Fennig called Ragan down pit road for four tires, fuel, an air pressure adjustment and a track bar adjustment. With nine laps to go Ragan restarted 21st and dropped one spot by the checkered flag. Ragan ultimately finished 22nd, while Mark Martin went on to win the event.
“We started off average and just never could seem to make the right adjustments,” said Ragan. “I really struggled on the restarts and just couldn’t pass cars. We fought tight in the center and loose off, and we could make one better and hurt the other so we were just back and forth all night long. It was just a real struggle. At times I felt like we were just a little bit better. We were in the lucky dog spot for a few laps and things just didn’t fall our way, but we weren’t that good and you can’t expect things to help you out when you can’t make things happen on your own. When it comes to these flat tracks recently we just haven’t been that good. We’ve just got to keep working on it and can’t lose sight of our goals, but just try to keep making things better.”
2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway
Sunday, April 26, 2009