Georgia Peaches Beginning To Ripen In NASCAR
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
When the University of Georgia football team opens the season in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend, the prospects of a great campaign might hinge on the play of a heralded, incoming freshman class billed as the “dream team.”
Motorsports in Georgia had its own version of a “dream team” about a decade earlier when three young drivers began their assault on the record books of the quarter-mile oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Joey Logano, who resided just outside of Atlanta in Alpharetta in those days, Peachtree City’s Reed Sorenson and David Ragan of Unadilla had racing insiders buzzing shortly after the turn of the century. That’s when the trio of drivers began winning everything in sight in Legends and Bandolero cars on Thursday nights on the small course inside AMS known as the Thunder Ring. And they were frequent visitors to victory lanes at other tracks throughout Georgia and the southeast.
They weren’t ready to start shaving just yet, but there was already a general feeling back then that all three drivers were destined to some day make it to the upper echelon of NASCAR.
And with the best days of Dawsonville native Bill Elliott’s racing career behind him, folks in
the Peach State had come to realize that the prospects of cheering for home grown talent on NASCAR’s speedways on Sundays for years to come were riding on the shoulders of three kids named Logano, Sorenson and Ragan.
They took different paths along with the way to get there, but when the 2009 season rolled around all three drivers found themselves in full-time rides in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Logano used a successful career in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series to catch the eye of Joe Gibbs. Sorenson parlayed success in the ASA Series into a Cup ride with Chip Ganassi. And Ragan’s success in ARCA helped convince team owner Jack Roush to put the second generation driver in his No. 6 Ford when it was vacated by Mark Martin at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
But once they finally got to the top of the heap, the results have been mixed at best.
Logano has enjoyed the most success by claiming numerous victories in the Nationwide Series while focusing primarily on the Cup level in JGR’s No. 20 Toyota. Logano’s lone Cup win came in 2009 at Loudon, N.H. when he played pit strategy to perfection to win the rain-shortened event.
Sorenson appeared to be on the brink of a couple of wins with Ganassi over the years, only to be denied when the checkered flag waved.
Ragan opened the 2007 season with a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500. The following
year, he finished a respectable 13th in the driver standings. He let this year’s Daytona 500 slip away following his famous lane change mistake on a late restart.
Over the past couple of years, it had started to appear that the Georgia “dream team” might never hit pay dirt on the NASCAR level.
With no ride in sight, Sorenson was forced back to NASCAR’s junior circuit, the Nationwide Series. Talk continued around the garage that the Ragan kid didn’t belong in Roush’s famous No. 6 Ford. And Logano, the driver Mark Martin had hailed years ago as the next best thing in NASCAR, was always racing in the shadow of Gibbs’ teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
But a funny thing happened over the past week during the plight of Georgia’s dynamic trio. Each driver made it to victory lane.
Sorenson pulled off a stunning win at Road America just over a week ago to vault into the lead in the Nationwide Series championship standings.
Logano led one lap en route to a thrilling victory in Friday evening’s Subway Jalapeno 250 on the high banks of Daytona.
One night later, Ragan claimed his first Cup win by capturing the Coke Zero 400 at the World Center of Racing in Daytona.
It remains to be seen if these three drivers who cut their teeth in racing alongside each other in Georgia will enjoy continued success during the coming months and years or become just another group of competitors who earned a living driving fast cars.
But looking back over the past eight days, it sure is good to see the ol’ gang that once ruled grass roots racing in Georgia back in the spotlight.
– Jeff Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment