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Ragan Earns First Pole Of His Cup Career

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 8 2011

David Ragan earned the first Sprint Cup pole of his career on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Fort Worth, Texas – David Ragan apparently planted the seeds for his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole one month ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“First thing is that I wasn’t backwards coming off Turn 2 like I was at Vegas, so that helped,” said Ragan, shortly after earning P1 for the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. “When you are fast in practice – and we have qualified in the top-five and top-10 two or three times this year –when you do that you eventually qualify on-pole. If you finish second, fifth and eighth you eventually win a race. That is our main goal. Our cars are just faster.”

Ragan’s miscue during time trials at Vegas left him with the 42nd-starting spot en route to a 22nd-place finish on the 1.5-mile quadoval that is a sister facility to TMS.

Ragan toured TMS in 28.448-seconds and 189.820 mph to put the No. 6 UPS Freight Ford Fusion on-point. Ragan will be joined in the all-Roush Fenway Racing front row by Carl Edwards, who put up numbers of 28.644-seconds and 188.521 mph in the No. 99 Scotts Ford.

Clint Bowyer will start third in the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet Impala fielded by Richard Childress Racing at 188.232 mph.  Roush Fenway’s Matt Kenseth will start fourth in the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford at 188.199 mph.

Incredibly, the pole – Ragan’s first in 153 series starts – also was the first in Cup for Roush Fenway at TMS, where Jack Roush’s drivers have scored  seven victories in 94 starts since 1997.

“I think Drew (Blickensderfer) did a nice job of figuring out when to make our qualifying laps in practice,” said Ragan, whose previous best start this season was fifth at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. “We were able to knock out a fast lap in practice, which gave us a good draw for tonight. It was a fast lap and the car stuck good and it gives us a good spot, obviously, on pit road. And I think our car is pretty good in race trim. It should be a fine Saturday night.”

Edwards – pole-sitter at Phoenix International Raceway and BMS – admitted he was at a loss to figure out the disparity between himself and his teammate.

“I’m going to go figure that out,” said Edwards, second in Cup points to Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing. “I’m fortunate that I get to look at his setup and everything he did. They approached it different than we did, I think. His car was good. I watched his lap and he drove it like his car did exactly what he wanted it to do, especially through (Turns) 1 and 2. He was screaming fast. I don’t know exactly what he did differently, but I didn’t expect that lap time.

“That’s cool for David though. If we had to be second to anyone in qualifying, David would be the guy. Those guys have been working really hard.”

Rounding out the top 10 for Saturday night’s scheduled 334-lapper are Regan Smith at 187.950 mph in the No. 78 farmamerican.org Chevy; five-time/reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson at 187.761 mph in the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevy; Marcos Ambrose at 187.656 mph in the No. 9 Stanley Ford; Joey Logano at 187.585 mph in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry; Greg BIffle at 187.552 mph in the No. 16 3M Ford and Kurt Busch at 187.402 mph in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger.

Point-leader Kyle Busch will start 11th after a hot lap at 187.370 mph in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota.

Meanwhile, a pair of newcomers to the Ford Racing camp successfully made the field as go-or-go-homers. Native Texan David Starr qualified for his first Cup race in 33rd after a lap at 185.580 mph in the No. 95 WRL General Contractors Ford fielded by neophyte team-owners Bob Leavine and Lance Fenton of Tyler.  Starr has been a regular, and four-time winner, in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series for 14 years.

And Andy Lally of TRG Motorsports completed the team’s switch this week from Chevrolet to Ford with a qualifying lap at 183.780 in the No. 71 Interstate Moving Services Ford. Lally’s speed was 39th on the chart but he will roll-off from the 43rd position following owner points adjustments for the cars driven by Ken Schrader and Tony Raines.

At the other end of the grid, Ragan was ready to celebrate the moment and move on.

“Obviously, to get my first pole at Texas, it has been a long time coming,” said Ragan, 25, who scored his best finish of the season (eighth) at Martinsville. “I feel like we have had several opportunities to get some poles and it’s a great thing. I’m really happy. I can’t wait to get back to the hauler and talk about our car for (Saturday) night. When the green flag drops people will forget we were on the pole. I’ll remember it…but we have to get out front and lead some laps and get some solid finishes.”

Jimmie Johnson did his best to let the controversy over his pit road speeding ticket at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday slide into obscurity during his media chat session.

Asked if he had spoken to anyone with NASCAR since his critical post-race comments, Johnson said: “I did talk to (NASCAR president) Mike Helton and he was nice enough to invite me to the control tower and to watch exactly how the pit road system works.  I will take him up on that and go check it out.”

Johnson’s pit road infraction ended his shot for another victory on the half-mile oval. Johnson was adamant during post-race interviews and on Twitter that he was not speeding. However, after seeing NASCAR’s data on Monday, Johnson said he was wrong to criticize the ruling. It seems the sanctioning body had caught him speeding in a different segment than the one he thought he was flagged in.

Johnson then called on NASCAR to make pit road speed data open and available to everyone in real time. Ironically, Johnson said he found adjusting to pit road speed an easy part of his transition into stock cars.

“For me, I felt like coming into the sport I was a part of the evolution,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet Impala. “For a driver coming in today, it’s probably a little bit more difficult to jump on board.  We’re all smart and teams dissect every aspect of the race.  It’s amazing what type of video footage we can produce in 20 minutes time with the Dartfish stuff that’s available and teams recording information and data and scanning other race teams.

“Talk about knowing another guy’s strategy, we all have people dedicated to scanning other race teams and what their strategy is and what they’re adjustments are.  It’s a wild world where we’re collecting so much information and it just takes a few years to process it all and really become efficient at it.  Pit road is that way and it’s kind of a moving target from week-to-week because depending on your pit road pick, some weeks you don’t qualify well and you don’t have a good option and it’s pretty simple.

“Other weeks you qualify well and you have a good stall and you can be aggressive in some areas.  You just have to stay on your toes and it’s another discipline to be competitive at the Cup level.  Another discipline you have to focus on.”

Night racing is nothing new at TMS, which stages its annual IndyCar Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series doubleheader in June under the lights. And while several November Cup races have started in the afternoon and finished at night, Saturday’s Samsung Mobile 500 is being billed as the inaugural and official Cup night race.

“It’s not like it’s the only thing we are thinking about, but it’s definitely just different,” said Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Reserve Chevrolet Impala. “Mostly because of the schedule and the way the practice sessions are lined up and the timing of events. We’re kind of used to practicing at 10:30 in the morning and starting the race at 12:30 or 1:00. We’ve got a bigger difference than that going into this weekend.

“I don’t think it’s going to be like whoever gets this right, the time change and all that stuff and the night race, is going to win the race. I think it’s something to consider when it comes to setting the cars up and working with them. It’s not a do-or-die situation.

“Just in general look forward to it. It was a good track for us last fall. We got stuck on the outside on a restart, I think (Greg) Biffle had no third gear and I got shuffled back at the end. Just really enjoying the racetrack here as it’s gotten some age on it and widened-out. It’s still got the character of the bumps but at the same time it’s really smooth and really fast.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 8 2011
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