David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, took time during a rain delay Friday morning at the 2011 Daytona Preseason Thunder to discuss his upcoming season, how Roush Fenway Racing has progressed as an organization, the new surface at Daytona and what a victory in the Daytona 500 would mean to him.
YOU HAVE HAD A DAY ON THIS NEW SURFACE, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT HOW IT FEELS OUT THERE? "The first time we were on it was like driving on glass. It was smooth all the way around with maybe a little bump here and there, but nothing that would change the handling of the car at all. Coming back down here this weekend, the difference is that one little bump has maybe gotten a little bit worse, but nothing compared to how it was at last year's Daytona 500 or even the race in July. The track has a ton of grip. Goodyear obviously brings a safe tire down here and they don't wear a whole lot. I think you will see a lot of strategy, two tire stops and fuel only stops. That will play differently this year than what we have been accustomed to in the past. I think the track is great and will only get better in time. Hopefully over the next few years it will age some and handling will come back into play and we will have to put tires on every pit stop."
WHAT CAN FANS EXPECT TO SEE IN A MONTH AT THE 500? "In years past here at Daytona you would get everyone really tight together for a few laps and then once the tires started to wear out the cars would bounce around. Some guys were loose, some tight and they were all over the race track. You would have to start lifting and the pack would stretch out some, so there would be a car-length gap here and a few feet there. Now, all the cars are going to handle so good that everyone is going to be three-by-three on top of each other all day long. It will be a different Daytona 500 than you have seen in the past and the last 20 or 30 laps will be totally insane. I think every inch of the track will be used and there will be a lot of pushing and shoving. You can see some of the guys hooking up already with the two-car packs like they do at Talladega. That is still going to be a little different because Daytona is a different style race track. It is tighter and a little narrower. It will be a good Daytona 500 and something we haven't seen in several years."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PROPOSED POSSIBLE POINTS CHANGE? "I think that has been long overdue. I think the points system has been confusing not only for the fans but the drivers and the teams. I think that simplifying it is a good thing. I think you still need to reward the winner a few more points than the second and third place guy. If you get those points too close together, it takes a little of the fame of winning out and getting those extra bonus points. I am sure NASCAR will make the right decision. They are in the right ballpark with the figures. I think it is very understandable that 43 to 1 point meaning first to last makes sense. As long as we get bonus points for leading laps and winning the race, I think it will be a good move."
THIS IS A BIG YEAR FOR YOU, ONE THAT YOU HAVE SAID YOU NEED TO BE MORE SUCCESSFUL. WHAT KIND OF EXPECTATIONS HAVE YOU PUT ON YOURSELF FOR 2011? "We have a lot of expectations on ourselves for this year. The last couple years we have been real inconsistent with a few runs here and there but we could never get in a rhythm where we knocked off top-5 and top-10 finishes. That is what gets you in the Chase and gets the most points. We have got to run a lot of mistake free races. The biggest thing is that we have our race cars really fast at Roush Fenway racing. I think the engine department is really prepared more so today than they have been in a couple of years. Our race cars are very nice and lightweight and seem to be very fast. That gives us a lot of confidence going into the year and that is a good thing. We all put pressure on ourselves because this is an important year for us and for our team. We want to get Ford back into victory lane and get UPS into victory lane. I want to win a Cup race very badly. To win a few Nationwide races a couple of years ago and have some success there was good. I didn't see the last couple of years coming and we have really been in a slump. The pressure we put on ourselves is a good thing and we have the resources to make it happen. It is a very important year and we are looking forward to Daytona but also Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol and those next few races that will set the tone for the year."
HOW HAS THE ORGINAZTION AT ROUSH FENWAY RACING CHANGED FROM THIS POINT LAST YEAR TO NOW? "We are so much more prepared today than we were a year ago at this date. Last year we were switching the engines back and forth it seemed like every week and trying to figure out what kind of race cars we were going to build. We had the Richard Petty merger and we were building cars for them. We were working just to get ourselves out of a hole and now we understand what to do and how to do it. I think everyone back at Roush Fenway racing and Jack Roush and Robbie Reiser really have a good plan of attack. I think our race cars are as good today as they have been in a couple of years and that will show everyone that we are back to win some races and that we can all have a good season. Better than what we have had in years past."
TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CREW CHIEF DREW BLICKENSDERFER AND HOW YOUR RELATIONSHIP HAS EVOLVED FROM LAST YEAR TO NOW. "I am really glad we made the change when we did last year. It gave us six or seven races to get used to each other. We expect to win and to run in the top-10 and be one of the best Ford teams out there. He has been able to gel with all our guys on the team and rally the troops the last few races. We had some good qualifying runs and good finishes last year that gave everyone some good momentum to get through the off season. I think that the morale of the No. 6 team is as good as it has been in a couple of years. We all expect to come out to Daytona and be a fast car, lead laps and be there at the end. Drew has done a nice job and it was good to run a few races last year and have the off season to build on that. We should be able to hit the ground running."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO COME AWAY WITH THE CHECKERED FLAG HERE IN THE 500? "That would be big. That would be a great start to the year. A checkered flag at Daytona is something else. You count on winning races and you want to win races. You never think about how you want to win at Atlanta versus Martinsville, you just want to win. To think about winning at Daytona is just something that you probably don't get a good feeling for what it is like until you really do win it. The 500 is a special race. We have been in the top-5 and top-10 a couple times and that is a good feeling but to win the race would be a huge start for our season and something that we have just as good a shot to do as any other team out here."
Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief of the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, spoke Friday at the 2011 Daytona Preseason Thunder about his relationships with driver David Ragan, information sharing in the Roush Fenway Racing camp and more.
DREW BLICKENSDERFER, crew chief, No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion
YOU HAD A FEW RACES LAST YEAR TO WORK WITH DAVID, HOW DID THAT HELP YOU GUYS GOING INTO THIS SEASON? "I think it prepared us to see what we needed to focus on over the off season. It got us a head start on making the first part of this year more valuable. The first 10 or 15 races are extremely important and having that kind of jump start prepares us better for those first 10 or 15."
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WORK OUT ALL THE LITTLE THINGS IN CREW CHIEF TO DRIVER COMMUNICATION, LEARNING TONE OF VOICE, ETC.? "It takes some time. David isn't as excitable as some drivers are, so I think tone of voice and knowing what you need loose versus tight versus other things takes some time. I think the six or seven races we did together last year prepared me to get a jump ahead on all of that. It takes more time with certain drivers to understand what they mean than others and I am glad we got a jump on that last year."
HOW WILL THE NEW NOSE AFFECT THINGS ON YOUR SIDE AS A CREW CHIEF? "I think it is pretty early to tell because we get limited testing. Other than this deal this weekend we won't get much short track testing and our testing is in a controlled lab environment. We know what we think we can expect when we get there but the last 25-percent or so, how the grill is going to get cluttered with debris or little things that don't come up in a controlled environment we will just have to see when we get to the race track. The new nose is a little of a question mark but we are happy with it. We are happy the way it turned out but we need to get to the track at Phoenix and Vegas to put the stamp on what we have got for sure."
WITH THE REPAVE HERE AT DAYTONA, DO YOU BASICALLY JUST TOSS OUT ALL YOUR OLD NOTES ON THIS PLACE AND START FROM SCRATCH? "Yeah, for the most part. You basically put away your Daytona notes and get out your Talladega notes. Talladega is so smooth that it compares more to this track now than the old Daytona. On the old Daytona you would come down here for qualifying and try to get as much speed as you could out of the car and then you go to race and you are worried about handling. Now you are worried about having the most speed for qualifying and the most speed for the race. That is more similar to Talladega now than anything. You can pretty much toss the old Daytona stuff to the side."
HOW MUCH COMMUNICATION DO YOU HAVE WITH THE OTHER CREW CHIEFS IN THE ROUSH FENWAY CAMP? "There is a ton of collaboration. We all get along really well and have an open book and open door policy with each other. We are constantly having meetings and talking about things. I would say that probably 10 times a day another crew chief will go to another one and talk about things. We are constantly together and always talking about what we plan on doing and we kind of know what each other have as far as the game plan and what our thoughts are."
-source: ford racing