Your first career Sprint Cup Series win came at Daytona. Do those memories of that victory come back to you every time you drive through the tunnel?
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, absolutely. Daytona is a special place to me and my family. Obviously the first-ever Daytona 500 you always remember. Daytona is a special place in general, but certainly having been to victory lane there makes it extra special. You’ve got confidence going into that race knowing that you’ve been there, you’ve done that, you know when to go hard and when to be conservative.
So I always have a lot of fond memories of Daytona; Speedweeks in February, certainly the July race. And I’ll have those same feelings and emotions, I’m sure, when I drive through the tunnel the first time this week.
Q. Victory lane at Daytona was a long way from where you started out as a young guy probably. Could you explain somewhere along the way, there was like a moment when you said, oh, yeah, I can do this?
DAVID RAGAN: You know, I guess my first Daytona 500, you certainly – you have that feeling over the years, if you’re referring to my whole career, whether it be late model stock or ARCA Series car or even a truck where you have a good day and you get that first win. But really the start of my rookie season in ’07, and we go to Daytona and we finish fifth in the 500, and that was when I felt like, man, this is the Daytona 500, we got a top 5, we maybe had a shot to win.
But I didn’t even realize what I was doing really. You look back at it, six months down the road and a year down the road, and you realize how special of a day that was.
But the ’07 500 is probably the first time in a Sprint Cup car that I felt like, man, this is where I need to be. I feel comfortable, and I was at ease after that race knowing that I could compete with the best.
Q. And when you were real young was there a moment then where you felt that you had confidence to be able to go on?
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, I guess your first-ever race, I can remember my first-ever race in a little Bandolero car. I was probably 12 years old or so, and I bent a spindle in practice, knocked off the bumpers of someone, and we fixed it. I thought I had destroyed the car. I didn’t know much about how a car goes together. Dad said, oh, no, that’s a small part, you can fix it pretty easy, and we went back out and ran second or third.
I thought, man, this is kind of interesting. It’s fun, it’s neat. If you make good decisions – I can’t wreck my car, but we can overcome obstacles. Even as a young kid you have situations like that that you experience where you gain confidence, and it’s all a building block. It never just happens in one race. It’s over years and years of having events, and you learn about them, and it still happens today.
Q. First of all, not to be facetious, but obviously the challenge is getting to the finish. I know you’ve had the win at Daytona, but I think three of the last four races at Daytona you’ve been swept up in wrecks. How do you avoid that, and I know the simple answer is if I knew I would to some degree, but the challenge of keeping clean and positioning yourself to be there at the end, how much is that in your control? What didn’t work at Daytona? What worked, for example, at Talladega when you were there at the end and won the race?
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, there’s a lot of strategy into being around at the end of these speedway races, and there’s different strategies for different teams, different manufacturers, depending on what your strong suits are, what your weaknesses are.
I’m here at Front Row Motorsports today and we just got out of a meeting talking about what our strategies are for the weekend, and some of the things that we look at is the Daytona race in July is a lot different than the 500-mile race in February. The temperature, obviously the distance, 100 miles less, and the racing is a little different.
I was wrecked in 2012 on the first lap of the Daytona 500, and I believe the summer race of 2012 I was wrecked in the last five laps. So you look at both of those races and think about what you did right and what you did wrong. All I can say is a lot of it is a gut decision. You can’t – in my opinion you can’t sit here on a Tuesday or even on a Thursday or Friday and have a plan and just stick to it. You’ve got to make decisions as the flow of the race changes. If they have a big wreck early in the race and there’s only 25 cars running, then your strategy changes. If there’s 40 cars still running at the end of the race with 50 laps to go, your strategy changes again.
You’ve just got to know all the factors and rely on your crew chief and your spotter, and myself and my judgment, and try to make the best decision you can. We’ll try to look at all those factors. I’ll know what kind of car I’ll have, whether it’s a very, very fast car or an average car, whether it’s good in a tight pack or by itself. You weigh in all those factors, and it’s ultimately up to me to make the best decision, and hopefully I’ll prepare myself enough where I can make a good decision, and if we’re in contention at the end of the race, I feel like my chances are as good as any at making the right moves in the closing laps of the race.
Q. And I know obviously Daytona is different from Talladega, but with your Daytona win in the past and the Talladega win, what are the similarities, and how much did you grow or change as a driver that helped you win at Talladega? How much of the stuff that you talked about, the decision making, how much was that similar or how much did your past experience help you with the opportunities at Talladega this time?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, I think the races are really different at Daytona and Talladega. Obviously the size of the track, the width of the track is different. Obviously at Talladega — both are 500-mile races. It’s a lot easier to pass. It’s wider so you can maneuver. Handling doesn’t matter as much, so you can take two tires, you can take no tires very often and you’re still fine.
But Daytona is opposite, and I think that the only thing that’s in my back pocket from those speedway wins is maybe some confidence in the other drivers’ eyes that, hey, David can make a good decision; we can stick with him; I feel comfortable drafting with him. I think that’s the only thing that we can really take.
As far as a decision late in the race or how our car is handling, our strategy, I think that’s all kind of game-time decisions. Again, it’s tough to forecast exactly what’s going to happen three or four days out.
Hopefully that win in the spring, some guys still remember that and they’re comfortable drafting with me. And I’ve got a lot of friends; that’s a good thing. It worked out perfect having David Gilliland as a teammate right behind me. I knew what he was going to do without even having to ask or think about it. If that happens again, that’s certainly a positive for us. But we’ll look forward to getting there on Thursday, practicing some, and then we’ll have a lot better idea of what our strategy will be and what kind of car we’ll have and what kind of – how aggressive I can be or how conservative I’ll have to be throughout the night.
Q. Can you compare racing on a concrete track versus an asphalt track?
DAVID RAGAN: You know, a lot of it has to do with how the track surface changes in reference to the temperature. Asphalt obviously being black, I don’t know if it’s where the material is a different mixture, it changes temperature a lot quicker than concrete does. So the amount of rubber being laid down, the grip that you have or may not have changes drastically with the amount of cloud cover and the outside, the ambient temperature.
So that’s the issue that you have tuning your car at an asphalt track, and it tends to wear differently over time depending on what region of the country and what mixture was used when the asphalt was laid down. It’s very different in Darlington, South Carolina, versus Chicago or Kansas City. So those tracks change different over time, but a concrete track, Dover, Martinsville, obviously the concrete is in the corners, even the old Nashville Superspeedway. It stays pretty much the same year after year, doesn’t change a whole lot. Temperature doesn’t have a whole lot of effect to it.
The only thing that affects the way your car is balanced is what type of tire Goodyear brings, so that’s the things you have to chase at a concrete track. But I enjoy both forms of racing for sure.
Q. Does Kentucky, did the current track surface at Kentucky race more like a concrete track this weekend just with the wear of the asphalt and such?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, I think Kentucky is to a point where it still races more like an asphalt track. Obviously that is what it is. But it’s been ground several times, and so the asphalt in my opinion, it’s stayed pretty similar the last few years.
When it gets worn out to a point, it can’t wear out any more, I think, which is great. It would be very boring to go to 36 races a year where they were all very smooth, no bumps and plenty of grip, so I think it’s great to have some different levels of track surfaces that have been repaved at different points throughout the years and so you face different challenges.
That’s what makes different guys competitive and the racing fun and a challenge at the same time. But I was happy with the way the track has been at Kentucky, and other than handling and not being able to go out there and pass cars and win the race like the 20 car was, it was good.