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Ragan Goes Rooting Around At Atlanta Motor Speedway

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 17 2009
David Ragan took some time to sign autographs as he returned to his Legendary roots Thursday night in Atlanta. (Photo special to RacinToday.com)

David Ragan took some time to sign autographs as he returned to his Legendary roots Thursday night in Atlanta. (Photo special to RacinToday.com)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Atlanta, Ga. – NASCAR driver David Ragan went back to his roots Thursday night – racing Legends cars on the quarter-mile track at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the same piece of asphalt where he drove his very first race at age 12.

He went not as a visiting Cup start but as one of the regular guys. He worked on his own car, even fueling it himself, and he paid all the bills for the trip from his current home in Charlotte. He also plans to run a Late Model on Saturday night at Watermelon Capital Speedway in his hometown of Unadilla.

The David Ragan who showed up Thursday was in many ways little changed from the polite youngster who once was a regular in the AMS Legends program. But there are differences.

For starters, he’s now making a living driving in NASCAR’s elite Cup and Nationwide Series. And he showed the patience that comes with experience and from being around world-class drivers, a virtue that was lacking among several of his competitors on Thursday.

Biding his time and taking care of his equipment allowed Ragan to take about a sixth-place car and finish second in the 20-lap Pro Legends feature.

He was fifth when he took the white flag, but the top three wrecked on the final turn, and Ragan motored past all but one to take the runner-up spot.

So where did he learn all that patience?

“Ken Schrader helped me learn at Martinsville in my second Cup start,” he said.

In that 2006 race, Ragan’s aggressive and reckless driving drew sharp criticism from Tony Stewart and from Schrader, who after being wrecked by Ragan, threw a piece of debris at his car as it passed the scene of the crash. NASCAR and Ragan’s car owner Jack Roush decided it would be best for Ragan to skip the next race, which was at AMS.

Ragan, who ironically was driving a Legends car numbered with the same 06 as his first Martinsville car, said he figured all along in the Legends feature that the Legends version of a “Big One” was about to happen. He said the youngsters he was racing against still have to learn one of racing’s greatest lessons – to finish first, first you must finish.

“They’ll learn,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of patience shown out there – no give and take. The last thing I wanted to do was get in an accident.”

Ragan also acknowledged that he’s still learning when it comes to taking care of his No. 6 Ford on the Cup circuit.

“Jack [Roush] says I still need to be more patient, that I sometimes tear up equipment when I shouldn’t,” he said. “It’s something you learn over time, and I’m still learning.”

Ragan’s second-place run in the Legends car was far better than anything he’s done with his Cup car this year, although he did get his first Nationwide win – with another last-lap surge at Talladega – earlier this year.

His best Cup finish so far was a sixth in the rain-shortened season-opener at Daytona, and since then his best finish has been a 12th at Talladega, and he’s dropped to 30th in points after coming within a whisker of making the Chase last year.

It hasn’t helped that his Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray are off the pace too. Kenseth won the first two races of the season, but they’ve all been shut out since.

“Even after the first couple of races, I felt like we were a contender for the Chase and to win races,” Ragan said. “I still feel like we can win races, but we’ve had bad luck, and we just haven’t been fast…

“I’m frustrated more than anything, and I feel bad for the fans and for [sponsor] UPS.”

His fans at AMS seemed to be plenty supportive – he ran out of hero cards to autograph. And he shouldn’t be feeling too much pressure from the sponsor, based on comments from Mark Dickens, International Public Relations Manager at UPS.

“We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” Dickens said. “We believe we have signed the right driver, and the tide will have to turn in his favor.

“The one concern I have for David is that he’s taking this season too much to heart. It’s just a matter of time before he’s winning races.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 17 2009
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