Friday, Jan 27

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— David Ragan came so close to scoring the victory at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero 400, but was shuffled back to the sixth position on a late-race restart in NASCAR OT.


Ragan was leading the race when the race restarted on lap 162, but Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had the dominate car and shuffled Ragan out of the lead.


His sixth place finish at Daytona was his best finish since a fifth place finish at the Martinsville Spring race in 2015.


Despite a sixth place finish, Ragan admits he didn’t have the speed when he was out front: 


“Our car didn’t have speed up front. Our car drove really good which allowed me to stay in the throttle and really push cars. We had a little damage to our right front fender too. It just didn’t go as it needed to,” said Ragan.


Despite being on the front row on the final restart, Ragan estimated the run by Ty Dillon, but underestimated the charge from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Michael McDowell.


“I really thought that if we could clear the 13 (Ty DIllon), we would be in good shape. I didn’t know the 17 and 95 had that good of a run. My car wasn’t good on the bottom either. It liked to run that middle and top. I just didn’t want to let anybody get on my outside.


Despite his recent records at Daytona, Ragan was pleased about his run:


“If it was Thursday and you said ‘Hey, we will give you a sixth place finish,’ I would probably would have took that coming to Daytona. My record hasn’t been that great the last several years. I have been caught up in wrecks. I haven’t been able to finish these races clean. To be that close its bittersweet, but I can handle it,” said Ragan.


Ragan understands defeat. In 2011, Ragan lost the Daytona 500 on a late race restart to Trevor Bayne. Ragan will think about it but believe losing this race is nothing.


“I lost the Daytona 500 down here. Losing the Coke Zero 400 that ain’t nothing. I will think about it tonight and tomorrow a little bit. I can think about it and smile.”


Ragan currently sits 28th in the Cup series points standings, 438 points behind Kyle Laron, but 41 points ahead of Aric Almirola, who sits 30th in points.

Kevin Harvick holds off weather and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to win the almost 24-hour long Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five.  Harvick started from 24th to win today’s race. This is Harvick’s 33rd victory in 561 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series started. 


“We should have won a lot of race this year, and we’ve just had things not go our way, made mistakes, or whatever the case may be, but to get back in victory lane here at bristol feels really good. We’ve had some good cars here the last few years. And to have Busch Beers on the car, we’ve had some crap luck with these guys on the car. Just really happy for Busch Beers and Jimmie Johns, and really proud for all these guys on the 4 team,” said Kevin Harvick in post-race victory lane interview. 


“Just frustrating. Starting sixth on that last restart with him (Harvick) starting on the front row was tough. We were going to have to get everything perfect. It took me a minute to get the top going, but I wanted to give up there, but I remembered we had Bryan Clauson’s tribute car here. The guys dug deep to make our Fastenal Ford a lot better. We really wanted to park in victory lane for his whole family, friends, and fans. We were just a little bit short. I thought we were matching lap times there at the end; I just needed a restart or to start a little bit closer. I am definitely happy with how the weekend ended,” said second place finisher, Stenhouse Jr. post race. 


Despite the race was delayed due to lightening in the area, the race began shortly after 9:00 pm eastern on Saturday night. Drivers were debating on whether to run high or on the bottom, but the lower groove prevailed at the beginning of the race. After getting the race underway for 31 laps, rain returned to the Bristol area bringing out the caution and ultimately the red flag. As the track dried, the engines refired shortly after 10:40 pm eastern. The red flag was displayed for 1 hour 24 minute and 4 seconds. While the cars were on the track and the jet dryers were finishing up drying pit road, the rain returned on lap 47.  The race was postponed shortly after 11:20 pm eastern, and was scheduled to begin at 1 pm on Sunday. However, when 1 pm came on Sunday, rain was still a factor, delaying the even more. The red flag was lifted shortly after 4:30PM (EST). Green flag racing resumed on lap 58. When the race resumed, drivers were on the high and low lines trying to gain positions. The first half of the race was a dominating performance and a blistering pace set Kyle Busch, who lead 184 of 250 laps in the opening portion of the race. 


Just as the race crept past halfway, the caution flew for debris. Busch continued his early dominance from the first half of the race into the second half. Tony Stewart, who had a terrible qualifying effort at Bristol, ended behind the wall to fix the tire vibration issues, but did return back on the speedway. The bottom and high line began to equalize in the second half of the race. Teams began to play cat and mouse on pit road in an effort to restart on the outside line.  After dominating most of the are, Ky. Busch reported that the rear-end housing might be broken, but ended up crashing before heading to the garage. Unlike the first half of the race, cautions were breeding cautions. Weather brought out a caution on lap 433, but cars were brought onto pit road with 54 laps remaining as the red flag delayed. After a brief timeout the red flag was lifted after 6 minutes, 47 seconds. The end of the race went business as usual. The second half of the race was dominated and ultimately won by Harvick and the 4 team. 


Overall, the 56th annual Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway say 20 lead changes among 8 different drivers. Ky. Busch led 256 laps, the most laps led, before getting caught up in an accident. The caution flag flew nine times for a total of 106 laps. The red flag was displayed three times all for weather. The average speed of the race was 77.968 mph. The official time of race was 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 5 seconds. The margin of victory was 1.933 seconds. 


Harvick continues his reign as the point leader. Brad Keselowski is 27 points behind, Kurt Busch is 70 points behind, Carl Edwards is 73 points back, and Joey Logano rounds out the top five behind 78 points. 


The Chase for the Sprint Cup grid has shifted some after today’s race. Buescher has raced his way into the top-30 and points, shifting the grid to only four spots remaining in the next three races. Ryan Newman is currently in the 12th spot on the grid. Because of Beuscher’s run, Kyle Larson was bumped out of the Chase. 


The next race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to the Irish Hills of Michigan for the second time in 2016 for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Alex Bowman will be in the no. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy at Michigan if Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not medically cleared to race due to concussion-like symptoms. The Pure Michigan 400 will be on NBCSN and Motor Racing Network beginning at 2:00PM (EST).

Early into the Pennsylvania 400, Chris Buescher was involved in an incident, forcing him to make an unscheduled pit stop. The No. 34 car went a Lap down, but on Lap 107, his race changed. 

Buescher would receive the free pass when Chase Elliott got into Joey Logano through the Tunnel Turn. When other drivers didn't pit, the Front Row Motorsports team did and went the remaining 31 laps on fuel. 

On Lap 132, NASCAR threw the caution for fog as it covered the entire 2.5-mile race track. The next six laps were spent under the caution flag before the red flag was thrown, waiting over an hour and a half before calling the race due to fog, handing Buescher his first career victory. 

"We're sitting there on pit road, kind of just waiting for everything to happen the way that it was going to," Buescher said of waiting over an hour for the victory. "We've had some awful luck this year and a lot of things not go our way and I tried not to get my hopes up because I knew just as soon as I did, the fog would have rolled back out and we would have been restarting again." 

Picking up the victory, Buescher sits 31st in the standings, six points behind David Ragan. In order to make the Chase, the No. 34 team will need to pick up those points. It is the second career victory for Front Row Motorsports. 

After struggling early on in the race, Brad Keselowski finished second. The No. 2 car was the first car on the track that had pitted and if the race would have remained green would have caught Buescher in the next handful of laps. 

"Definitely an odd weekend," Keselowski said of his race. "We were really competitive this weekend. I'm really proud that we were running up front. I thought that there were two or three cars that were really strong and we were one of them." 

Finding a four leaf clover during the pre-race, Regan Smith lucked into a third-place finish, also staying out on fuel. The finish ties the best-career finish by Tommy Baldwin Racing at Talladega in the fall of 2011.

"This is a big deal for this team," Smith said of his finish. "Tommy has really worked hard over the years at this and we've got to take opportunities when they present themselves and today was a day that opportunity presented. I'm proud of them for taking the chance doing the fuel-mileage deal and do what we did." 

Arguably having the fastest car in Pocono, Kevin Harvick came home fourth, leading seven laps. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart rounded out the top five. 

Leading 37 laps, Kyle Larson spent the most time out front on Monday. This was yet again a win that got away from the third year driver as he finished sixth on the afternoon. 

A trio of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers lined up positions seven through nine with Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. June winner, Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10. xdsxsx

For much of the day it looked like Austin Dillon had the car to beat as on two separate occasions the No. 3 car raced its way to the lead, leading three laps. During the last pit stop, a lug nut got hung on the right rear tire, slowing the pit stop. 

Kasey Kahne was the highest finishing driver from the Hendrick Motorsports stable in 15th. This marks the fourth time in the last six events that a Hendrick team has failed to post a top-10 finish. 

In his return to Pocono, Jeff Gordon will go home with a 27th-place effort after a seat belt came loose under the green flag.

Pre-race favorite, Martin Truex, Jr. spent the first 16 laps out front prior to the competition caution. The pole-sitter cut a tire on the lap following the resuming restart. Over the rest of the race, the No. 78 car cut two more tires, finishing 38th. 

Landon Cassill currently sits 28th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points. At the halfway point of the season, he has an average start of 31.1 with an average finish of 25.8. In his 1st season with Front Row, Cassill currently has zero DNF’s, and 20 laps led in 2016. Cassill conducted an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest on the state of motorsports and his season:



Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?


Don’t forget what got you here and wherever you are at.


In general, where do you see the state of motorsports?


I think there is growth opportunity to reach a new generation. I’m really motivated about that. 


What ways do you believe the motorsports industry can reach the millennial generation?


I think in how we deliver our message; what platforms we do that. I think they’ve responded well. You look at what channels other sports are doing well with. the NBA is just killing it on social media, the NFL live broadcasting on twitter, things like that. I think those are opportunities for NASCAR to tell our story, while still having an extremely powerful broadcast partner for our mainstay fan base. 


Do you see social media as a way to promote yourself and Front Row Motorsports?


Yeah. I don’t even know if it’s from the verbiage of promoting. I think it is just a matter of giving our story out there, who we are, what we do, a way to show our message because sometimes our message doesn’t always get delivered on Sunday afternoon on a live broadcast. To be quiet honest, we’re working seven days a week on this program, I think social media has provided us a platform to share a story everyday of the week on what is going on behind the team, not just on Sunday. 


What percentage of on and off track dealings help with yours and Front Row’s brand?


It’s probably 50-50.  Even though you see me on the racetrack Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything on the competition side. Its spending time in our competition meetings, time in simulator, studying my data, and in between all that is time invested in what the megaphone social media is. 


What motivates you as a Sprint Cup Series driver?


I really want to win. That is an extreme motivation. Sometimes we don’t always have a piece with a look at winning, but also winning in our own respects. There is a way to have a successful weekend without ending up in victory lane. Sometimes that is a moving target, but I think being able to identify that target on a weekly basis is important.


As we enter into the second half of 2016, how would you rate your season so far? I don’t think I could ever give it an A+ until we are on the main table in Las Vegas, I guess, but I am definitely happy where I am at with Front Row. I appreciate the energy this team has behind me. They have a lot of belief in me, i appreciate that. I keep looking at it one week at a time.


In the first part of 2016, what do you see as your strengths and weaknesses going into the second half? I think our strengths are that we raced really well, reliable for the most part, and we’ve had a couple rough finished like Daytona and Pocono, but we haven’t beat ourselves too much, which has been a very good thing for this team. The weaknesses we might have are things we can control, like the speed of the car, quality of our car on the weekend. Donnie and I can put out heads together and work harder to make the car faster. As long as we’re having consistent races without minimal mistakes, i think we will be able to reap the benefits. 


What are your goals for the second half of 2016? Just to continue to improve on our average finish, to finish every race, to keep the car clean, that way we can continue to improve on it.


At the end of the day, what do you want your legacy to be with the fans and among drivers? I really want to be able to be in a position where i can lead the way in how our drivers are interacting with fans and the value we bring to our corporate partners. This sport has so much access, a rabid loyal fan base, that increases demand for the personalities in the sport to service that loyalty. We are not just in and out performers where we drop the mic. We really have to service or fan base, service our sponsors. 


Where does the Driver’s Council play into the future of the sport? Hopefully, it can really move the needle. I think its important that the driver’s have a voice. I’m glad there is some sort of structure in place to have that voice. It’s done well in influencing some competition related things. I think it can expand into the actual business model. 


What are some ways you and Front Row can tap into bringing that value to the sponsors? I think finding ways that tell our story beyond Sunday afternoon. Finding ways to show our fans, people who follow the 38 car, give them a piece of something to follow every single day of the week, not just on Sundays. 

David Ragan has been announced as the new driver of the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota for BK Racing. The news came hours after Matt DiBenedetto officially stated that he would be returning to drive the No. 83 car for the organization in 2016. 

Ragan joins BK Racing after facing many unknowns about what his future entailed throughout the off-season. Last July, his future became uncertain after becoming the full-time fill-in driver for Brian Vickers when Michael Waltrip Racing announced that it would be shutting its doors at season’s end.

Last year alone, Ragan started off the Daytona 500 with Front Row Motorsports, a team that he had been with since 2012, but was named the replacement driver for Kyle Busch starting at Atlanta after Busch was injured in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona. He competed in nine events for the No. 18 team, and then moved over to MWR to drive the No. 55 car for the remainder of the season.

Throughout the season Ragan only accumulated one top-10 finish, which came in March at Martinsville. He was in a position where, yes he had to adapt to multiple different teams and crew chiefs, but had he been successful it is possible he would have landed a ride in a top-tier car for the 2016 season.

However, after not performing up to expectations, Ragan was stuck not knowing his future for a long time. He was in the prime position of his career to prove to other teams in NASCAR that he has what it take to muscle the car around and take advantage of an incredible opportunity. Unlike his teammate at MWR, he did not have sponsorship that would follow suit. It was announced in October that his teammate Clint Bowyer would be joining HScott Motorsports in 2016 with funding from 5-Hour Energy.

 The Georgia native seemed to be relieved after announcing on Monday that he would be joining BK Racing.

"I'm happy to be part of something that has so much growth potential," Ragan said in a press release. “Ron [Devine] has steadily built his program over the last five years. He's made an even greater commitment in 2016 with new cars, equipment, and additional personnel. I feel that we'll be in a position to bring the team to the next level. I'm looking forward to the season."

The 30-year-old has proven to be marketable over the years. During his career, he has had funding from big-time sponsors such as AAA, UPS and Aaron’s. The two-time Cup Series winner will bring some star power to the young team, which was created in 2012 after Devine purchased the assets of Red Bull Racing. 

For the majority of his nine full-time seasons, Ragan worked with Roush Fenway Racing, where he picked up his first career win in July of 2011 at Daytona. He spent his first five full-time seasons with Roush before joining Front Row Motorsports, which he raced with for just over three seasons.

Monday’s announcement was a win for BK Racing in trying to elevate its program to the next level.

“We're very excited to have a driver of David's caliber join our team," Devine said in a team press release. "In addition to being a race winner, I feel that his input and leadership qualities will benefit the team on many levels. Our entire organization is energized to work with him."

Over the off-season, BK Racing purchased more than a dozen of MWR’s racecars. This was a step in the right direction and puts better equipment out on the racetrack for the organization compared to the equipment it has used in the past. Last season, the BK Racing owned cars finished 37th, 40th and 43rd, respectively in the owner standings.

For Ragan, BK Racing was the obvious option. In an offseason that has had plenty of late moves, he was the only big name driver to not have secured a ride through late January. Though it might be a step down from previous teams that he was on, the new driver of the No. 23 car will get the most out of the racecars each week.

This move seems to have been Ragan’s only option in the Cup Series.

There were no deals on the table in the XFINITY Series that would have put Ragan in a competitive ride. However, just last season, rookie Jeb Burton went from being a championship threat in the Camping World Truck Series to a driver who missed multiple races at the Sprint Cup level competing in BK Racing equipment.

Ragan obviously has a more wealth of knowledge than Burton due to experience. However, how much can Ragan get out of the racecar? Everyone knows that he will be competitive on the restrictor plate tracks, he always is. But what about the other 32 events?

It will be difficult for Ragan to be competitive with BK Racing. The organization is making all of the right moves in purchasing new equipment, bringing in a driver who will instantly be the leader of the team.

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