David Ragan will have no worries racing his way into the Daytona 500 on Sunday. The Georgia native is one of two drivers that secured a starting spot in Sunday’s “Great American Race” via qualifying position on Wednesday.
Making his 15th Daytona 500 start on Sunday, Ragan captured his best career Daytona 500 finish last season by placing fourth on the leaderboard. That finish earned him his second top-five and third top 10 finish in the 500.
Ragan, driving the No. 36 Select Blinds Ford, posted the 13th fastest time in qualifying and will start sixth in Duel race No. 2. He, like Ryan Preece, can improve their starting position but also fall back on qualifying, if needed.
“There was some really good teams to come down to Daytona and like I was talking about earlier a lot of times I’ve taken practice, qualifying into the Duels a little bit for granted because my thoughts have always been on Sunday afternoon and what am I gonna do to be in position to try to win the Daytona 500, so it was a different feeling to come to Daytona and not be locked in and knowing that I had a lot of pressure,” said Ragan after locking into the Daytona 500. “I mean, I had a sponsor and employees that our car owner Bob Jenkins invests a lot of money and I didn’t want to let those guys down. I really thought it could happen either way. I knew we had a good chance to qualify in and race in. They built this car new over the offseason. Doug Yates has great horsepower, but we’re going against some pretty fast race cars, so I knew that regardless of what happened I was gonna give God the glory and it was gonna be meant to be whatever happened, so I’m grateful that the car ran well, we got through tech and I’m glad to be locked in before Thursday.”
Ragan, a former full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, has taken a step back from racing. Only competing in the Daytona 500 last year and a pair of truck races, the 35-year-old has been working for Ford Performance in the simulator for NASCAR teams as they continue to develop the current and NEXT Gen cars. The Daytona 500 on Sunday is the only race scheduled for Ragan so far in 2021.
“The only race I have scheduled at the moment is here at the Daytona 500. I love racing,” Ragan continued. “I’d love to run a few truck races this year if the schedule works out, but my main priority is working with Ford Performance and the development of the NEXT Gen Ford Mustang.”
Working at Ford Performance also involves working with some of the young drivers coming through the NASCAR ranks.
“I’ve been working with some of the young Ford drivers and getting them up to speed at some of the new racetracks that they’re going to be seeing, letting them know what kind of technology that Ford has that can help them and their teams with the limited practice that all the series have.”
Working with the young up and comers at Ford Performance and doing analyst work with FOX Sports, Ragan has found a busy and balanced life away from the car.
“Still working with Fox Sports and doing some analyst work on the Race Hub show, so between all of that I find myself pretty busy, which is great because I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds. I can still be involved in the sport that I love, but I can also pick my kids up from school on occasion and be home with them on the weekends and eat dinner with them most every night, so I’m pretty happy with the schedule so far.”
Knocking off the rust, Ragan is fortunate that having all the drivers out of the seat for a while will help. He’ll also be able to dial in the car on Thursday in the second Duel 150 race and in a pair of Cup Series practice sessions on Saturday.
“I’m fortunate that my first race is Daytona, so most of the drivers have been out of the seat for a few months,” Ragan said. “I have the Duels on Thursday night to kind of get a warm-up, generally some additional practice, so I feel like I’m on a pretty even slate. I’ve probably run more laps on the simulator than any of the drivers over the past four or five months, so from that aspect I still feel like I’m pretty engaged with what the cars are doing, the handling. Obviously, there’s no substitute for being at the racetrack and being behind the wheel, but I’m still listening in on race weekends. I read over some of the notes from the Ford teams and on the simulator a lot, so I feel like I’m pretty engaged, but I’m fortunate that the Daytona 500 is a pretty unique schedule, so I can ease into it a little bit more and it would definitely be more of a challenge if I popped in during the regular season with no practice and qualifying, so we’ll see if that’s ever the case, but I’m grateful to have a few laps under my belt this weekend.”
Ragan enters the season opener at Daytona with 471 Cup Series starts. He has two victories, 16 top fives, and 41 top 10s along with two career poles.