Ragan rolls off fourth for Sunday's Auto Club 400
FONTANA, Calif. – Can David Ragan pick up where Kyle Busch left off?
Busch won the last two Sprint Cup events at Auto Club Speedway, ending a five-race run by Chevrolet. Unfortunately, Busch remains on the mend after injuries suffered to his right leg and left foot during a crash in the XFINITY Series opener at Daytona and won’t be able to defend his victory.
Ragan, who is subbing for Busch and qualified fourth, is well aware of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota’s recent success at ACS. But rather than be intimated by Busch’s record, Ragan is using the knowledge of the team’s strength at the two-mile track for incentive.
I feel like I've got a lot of good guys surrounding me that if I ask them the right questions, they'll give me some good advice and ultimately it helps when you have a fast car and I think that our Interstate Batteries Toyota has some speed.
“That generally gives you some confidence coming into the weekend,” Ragan said. “I spoke to Kyle this morning and he gave me a few things to think about. Not necessarily for qualifying today, but for happy hour tomorrow throughout the race on Sunday.
“I feel like I've got a lot of good guys surrounding me that if I ask them the right questions, they'll give me some good advice and ultimately it helps when you have a fast car and I think that our Interstate Batteries Toyota has some speed. The handling hasn't been perfect today, but it's encouraging any time that you can make some small adjustments, the car does react and even though you're still fighting some problems, you still have some speed, so looks like all four Gibbs cars have some speed today.
“We'll work on – tomorrow, I think tomorrow's practices will be very, very important to get a good balance for Sunday, but, yeah, all in all I feel good about the weekend and can't wait to get going on Sunday."
Ragan, 29, started the season with Front Row Motorsports and finished 17th in the Daytona 500 before he was recruited by Joe Gibbs Racing. In his first three starts, Ragan average a 20.3-place finish. On Friday, he posted the second-best lap among the JGR drivers and was eighth fastest on the speed chart. In 12 starts in Fontana, his best finish was in 2009 while driving for Jack Roush.
But the more time he’s able to spend with first time Sprint Cup crew chief Adam Stevens and the rest of the No. 18 team, the more comfortable he’s become.
"It's great to get to the race track and know everyone's name and get a feel for their process through a weekend and how they communicate and how all four teams work together for the common good, so that certainly does make things a little easier,” Ragan said. “I've been a little disappointed with just our overall results on Sundays. We've had moments of brilliance through the weekends, but we really haven't been able to put an entire weekend together, so it's encouraging to get back to the race track and again have some speed.
“This weekend is very, very important to get a good run and obviously just set the tone for the next few races.”
The Auto Club 400 is the home track for Toyota Racing Development. Whether the JGR Camrys will have a home field advantage on Sunday depends on whether the drivers can stop the Stewart-Haas Racing juggernaut which consists of current Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, who will start second, and his teammate Kurt Busch, who tops drivers in the series for poles at ACS after Friday’s lap of 185.741mph.
Here’s how the Gibbs drivers stack up:
Matt Kenseth – Kenseth qualified third for the Auto Club 400. He won the pole last year and finished fourth. His three career wins at the track came behind the wheel of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. What’s remarkable is Kenseth has completed every lap he’s raced at ACS and led 526 laps. He has nine top fives and 15 top 10 finishes in 22 starts. His average finish of 9.8 is third among current drivers.
Denny Hamlin – Entering the weekend, Hamlin shared the record for most poles (3) at ACS with Kurt Busch. He qualified sixth on Friday. Hamlin sat out last year after a piece of debris in his eye sidelined him for the event. It was just another bizarre circumstance for the driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Camry who was dumped by Joey Logano in 2013 as the two drivers fought for the lead coming out of the final corner of the race. Kyle Busch drove around on the outside to take the win. When Hamlin hasn’t been wrecked or had engine failures, his average finish on the two-mile track is 11.66.
Carl Edwards – Edwards has just one win at ACS but the second-best average finish – 8.5. In 17 starts he has eight top fives and 14 top 10 finishes. On Friday, Edwards wrecked the No. 19 Subway Toyota just before the end of practice. In the backup car, Edwards qualified 15th.