TALLADEGA, Ala. – David Ragan knew he wasn’t on most pundits’ radars when he took the green flag for the Aaron’s 499 last May.
It didn’t bother him. Ragan, the driver of the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, was confident in himself. He knew what he could do. All he had to do was show it.
One-hundred ninety-two laps later, Ragan did just what he set out to do: Win a race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He was barely even considered a long shot to compete for the win, but Ragan used a push from teammate David Gilliland to capture his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup win.
One year later, Ragan is back in the same spot. Talladega and Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway, the sport’s two restrictor-plate tracks, afford Ragan’s team – which has less money than the large operations – a chance to shine.
Ragan said he fully intends to take advantage of it once again.
“It fits my style,” he said. “Our racecars are good at these places. I’ve got good Ford engines and our Ford Fusions have been fast, so it is fun to come here. We’ve kind of gotten off to a rotten start to start the 2014 season, so this could be a good race for us to just have a solid run and kind of turn our season around.”
Ragan entered Talladega last year with no top-10 finishes, seven laps led and a 28th-place ranking in points.
It’s much of the same this year. Ragan has led two laps and is in 31st in points. He hasn’t finished better than 27th. He’s still optimistic about Talladega, though. The random nature of restrictor-plate tracks – where leads can change multiple times every lap and one smart move can put a driver up front ¬– makes him confident.
“I couldn’t have won the race without David Gilliland, and he couldn’t have finished second without me leading him there at the end, so it was certainly a team effort,” Ragan said, “but this is very much a crapshoot. There are so many factors that go in to what happens because you’re dependent on one another in the draft.
“At other types of racetracks you’re looking for clean air, you’re looking for that line that no one else is running and here and Daytona it’s totally the opposite.”
It’s an equalizer for the sport’s small teams. Talladega played host to unexpected winners long before Ragan.
Bobby Hillin Jr. captured his only Sprint Cup win at the track in 1986. Brian Vickers overcame contact with leaders Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to grab his first win in 2006. Ragan is just the most recent unsung hero to have a success story at the Alabama track.
He hopes he’ll write another chapter Sunday.
“I guarantee the final 10 or 12 laps will probably be as crazy as we’ve ever seen,” Ragan said, “because everyone will be thinking about getting that win like they’ve been thinking about all year.”