FONTANA, Calif. (February 22, 2009) – With threatening clouds and sprinkles from above, the scene at Auto Club Speedway was all too similar to the rainout that was the Daytona 500 just one week ago. Luck was on NASCAR’s side this time and with only a few cautions for rain, the field was able to race the scheduled 500 miles. David Ragan had a fast UPS Ford, but contact with the wall and long green flag runs worked as a disadvantage in the end. Ragan qualified 13th, but battled a tight-handling Ford throughout the 250-lap event. As if the handling woes weren’t enough, contact with the wall under green cracked the splitter and pushed in his right-front fender. His team made the necessary repairs over the course of two pit stops, but when it was all said and done, Ragan was a lap down to the leaders. He raced his way into the “lucky dog” position to be back on the lead lap, but the caution never came leaving him with a 17th-place finish.
Ragan qualified his UPS Ford 13th and was up to seventh when the first caution was displayed for rain. NASCAR requested the field stagger themselves to help keep the track dry and they did just that. The rain held off and green flag racing resumed on lap 23. Ragan continued to be in the top 10 when the caution came out once again for rain on lap 42. The UPS Ford was tight so crew chief Jimmy Fennig called Ragan down pit road for four tires, fuel, an air pressure adjustment and a track bar adjustment. The UPS over-the-wall crew gained Ragan three spots on pit road, setting him up fifth for the restart on lap 47.
Next up was a long green flag run and the UPS Ford was still tight. Ragan held his ground over the next 40 laps and pitted under green on lap 86 for more of the same changes as on the previous stop. Trouble on the left rear during the stop cost him valuable time on pit road, which didn’t help what was about to ensue. Ragan’s Ford continued to be tight despite the adjustments which contributed to Ragan making contact with the outside wall shortly after returning to the track. Radio silence over the next few laps allowed Ragan to get a feel for the UPS Ford and survey the damage.
Ragan never reported any news specific to the wall contact, so he stayed on the track until the next round of green flag stops came and he could pit for four tires, fuel, an air pressure adjustment and for the right-front fender to be pulled away from the tire. Damage repair under green flag conditions cost Ragan a lap on pit road and from there on out, the goal was to get back on the lead lap and salvage a decent finish. Although an overheating scare a few laps later would slightly derail the plan.
With 100 laps remaining, the water temp on the UPS Ford suddenly shot up and Ragan knew he must have debris on the grill. Fennig instructed Ragan to pull up behind another competitor and to turn off his vents to help dislodge the piece of paper. The move worked and Ragan’s water temp returned to normal. From there on out they went back to trying to get on the lead lap. On lap 216, while running 17th, Ragan was in position to be the “lucky dog” and get back on the tail end of the lead lap, but a much needed caution never came, leaving Ragan with a 17th-place finish. Ragan’s teammate Matt Kenseth went on to the win the Auto Club 500, kicking off the season with back-to-back victories for Roush Fenway Racing.
“I thought we had a top-10 car all night,” said Ragan. “We had a bad pit stop on the green flag stop and I got into the wall and we just had some bad circumstances tonight. We got a lap down and couldn’t ever rebound. At times we had a top seven or eight car, but when you get that far behind and you don’t have many cautions to catch back up, it just made for a tough night. Our UPS Ford team did a good job in the pits and if we just would have had a caution or something fall a littler earlier, we could have gotten the ‘Lucky Dog’. I think we still could have finished 10th or 12th, but it was still a decent effort.”
1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas, Nev.
Sunday, March 1, 2009