INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (July 27, 2008) – Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a prestigious track that everyone looks forward to competing at and holds the dream that they may someday “kiss the bricks” and become a brickyard champion. This year NASCAR’s annual trip was plagued with tire wear issues leaving everyone questioning how the field would survive the 160-lap event. The tires seemed to disintegrate on the track surface and turn to dust which led to NASCAR throwing “competition cautions” after just 12 laps of green flag racing throughout the entire event. David Ragan qualified 16th and had a very fast car, but the race came down to pit strategy between teams taking two tires while others took four. There was no doubt about taking right-side tires; they were changed at every opportunity. By the time the checkered flag flew there were a total of 11 cautions resulting in 52 laps run under yellow. Ragan had a top 10 car, but settled for a 14th-place finish. He moved up to 14th in the point standings and is currently just 56 points out of the coveted top 12.
An early qualifying draw at Indianapolis is key and Ragan was lucky enough to go out fifth when it came to setting the field. With only two of four practice sessions completed before his qualifying effort Ragan struggled a little with the set-up on his AAA Ford. The early draw helped and Ragan was able to qualify 16th. The track position from his qualifying effort worked to Ragan’s advantage once the race began.
From the drop of the green flag no one knew quite what to expect when it came down to tire wear, but everyone was out to give it their best shot. Ragan had a Ford that started tight, but the handling shifted to being more neutral as he made more laps around the 2.5-mile track. Ragan’s first opportunity to pit came under NASCAR’s first “competition caution” on lap 15. While running 12th Ragan pitted for two right-side tires. The set removed from the car were almost worn down to the cords after a mix of green and caution laps.
Ragan restarted 11th, this time his Ford was neutral then got really loose on entry. Ragan pitted under the competition caution on lap 30 for a track bar adjustment, four tires and fuel. From here the pit strategy and fight not to blow a right-rear unfolded. Ragan pitted an additional seven times, taking four-tires four times and two-tires three times. Crew chief Jimmy Fennig planned the cautions out so they would only need to take two tires on the last caution in an attempt to gain track position. Unfortunately others had gambled more on two-tires throughout the race and had an advantage on valuable track position. Ragan crossed the finish line 14th with a car that could have easily finished in the top 10 while Jimmie Johnson went on to win the event.
That was the weirdest race I’ve ever been in,” said Ragan. “To conserve tires and think about stopping that often and it was just kind of a different strategy than we’ve ever been a part of and we learned from it. I think we had a good car. We had a top 10 car, but everybody just played strategy all day long. I think the best car won and I think we were better than some of the guys in the top 10, but they just had the track position there at the end. Without that many laps to go it was tough to pass and everybody was afraid to overdrive their car for a long period of time. It was an interesting race, but we definitely had a little better car than where we finished.”
2.5-mile Pocono Raceway
Long Pond, Penn.
Sunday, August 3, 2008