DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 15, 2009) – The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season officially kicked off today with the Daytona 500. Even though it was a rain-shortened event it definitely did not lack excitement for the dedicated fans in the stands or those watching at home. After unsuccessful outings in both the Bud Shootout and Gatorade Duels, Ragan was determined to avoid anymore bad luck and start the season off with a good finish for his new sponsor UPS. Ragan did just that, avoiding accidents and while he kept his car in one piece with great track position at the end for a sixth-place finish. Even though Ragan and the team knew they may have had an even better finish if the rain hadn’t shortened the race, a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500 is definitely something to be excited about.
Ragan started the event 33rd after getting rear-ended in his Gatorade Duel qualifying effort. The first caution came out just eight laps into the event, but the No. 6 UPS Ford was handling well so crew chief Jimmy Fennig opted to leave Ragan on the track. Ragan restarted 14th and continued to hover in the top 20 until NASCAR threw a “competition caution” on lap 25. This time the UPS Ford was tight from the center off and on a scale of 1-10 Ragan considered his car about a four or five.
Ragan pitted under caution for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment. His crew gained him four spots on pit road which moved Ragan up to 13th for the restart on lap 30. One lap later, Ragan worked his way into the top 10 and got up as high as third before settling back to 11th for the next caution on lap 55. The UPS Ford was now tight off turn two, so Ragan pitted for more changes like those performed on the previous stop.
Over the next long run, the UPS Ford got a little snug, but overall was handling well for Ragan. Around lap 85 the threat of rain became a real possibility, but with so many laps remaining, the race continued on as normal. The caution came out again on lap 119 when the No. 12 blew a tire. Ragan pitted under caution for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. The field went back to green flag racing on lap 124 and just as they were attempting to complete the lap the “big one” occurred. Ten competitors piled up while Ragan took a trip through the grass to avoid the debacle unfolding in front of him.
The adventure through the grass was key in Ragan avoiding the on-track wreck, but packed his grill with debris and caused his engine temperatures to rise. The off-roading adventure cost Ragan track positions, so with nothing to lose Fennig called Ragan down pit road for four tires, fuel and to get the grill cleaned off. With no other damage to his UPS Ford, Ragan was set for the green flag restart on lap 133.
Ragan was sitting 19th as everyone crossed their fingers that the weather would hold off long enough so that lost track position could be gained. Mother Nature cooperated and Ragan was up to 10th for the next caution on lap 138. From here on out he was on his own as no one quite knew when the rain would fall hard enough to make NASCAR call it a night. Ragan was up to sixth when the cars were directed down pit road due to a wet race track. Shortly after parking the cars Ragan’s teammate Matt Kenseth was awarded the win and Ragan was officially scored in sixth.
“We’ve worked on our UPS Ford every pit stop trying to make it better,” said Ragan. “It would have been nice to lead a lap early in the race when we were up front, but the race was pretty uneventful for us, which is a good thing. We’ve been able to pass when we needed to. We’ve dropped back a few times, just trying to get the car handling like I need it, but I feel like we’ve got a car that’s as good as it’s been all race and we just need some more green flag racing. Certainly a top 10 isn’t a bad day, but you only get one chance a year to win the Daytona 500, so it would have been nice to finish rather than being rained out.”
Auto Club 500
2.0-mile Auto Club Speedway
Sunday, February 22, 200