HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – David Ragan, driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Xtreme Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is looking to put together a full weekend in more ways than one as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Phoenix International Raceway.
Ragan will make his third start as the interim driver filling in for the injured Kyle Busch, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance in his brief tenure. But as it is with many things in racing, gaining the much-sought-after team chemistry necessary to run at the front of the pack on a consistent basis takes time.
He and crew chief Adam Stevens have been near the top of the charts in practices at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway the last two weekends, along with some solid runs in qualifying, barely missing the final round in both races. However, the driver-crew chief duo is looking to put together an entire weekend as the most satisfying result is a solid showing in the final running order on race days. Thus, their undying focus on Sunday’s Sprint Cup CampingWorld.com 500k in the Arizona desert.
With the No. 18 team hungry for a solid finish this weekend in Phoenix, Ragan will sport the livery of SNICKERS Xtreme, a product name that was voted on by the fans on the SNICKERS Facebook page last year. The SNICKERS Xtreme version of the iconic candy bar is packed with just nuts and caramel and has been a popular choice among consumers since its return.
So as the Sprint Cup series heads to the “Valley of the Sun,” Ragan and company are hoping to not only put together strong practices and a qualifying session Friday, but a strong result Sunday for the SNICKERS Xtreme team, which would be quite satisfying knowing they are working on building a strong foundation to hand back over to Busch upon his return to the driver’s seat.
DAVID RAGAN, Driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Xtreme Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your expectations heading to race at Phoenix this weekend?
“Since they repaved Phoenix a few years ago, it’s been a challenge for the teams and drivers. It seems like Goodyear has adjusted the tire combination a little bit. I enjoyed the old configuration with Phoenix and haven’t had a really solid run with the new configuration, so that’s a track I’m really excited to get to with the SNICKERS Xtreme JGR team and kind of see how competitive I can be with their package. Phoenix is a great place to watch a race. They always pack the grandstands and have good weather this time of year, and it’s always a stop I look forward to.”
Do you feel more pressure filling in for Kyle Busch?
“It’s a different feeling. I don’t know that I would call it more nervousness. You can’t really describe the amount of pressure because there’s a lot of pressure regardless of what car you’re driving. But, absolutely, working with a different team, working with a different group of guys, manufacturer – there’s just a lot of newness that surrounds it. It’s different, but it’s also a challenge that I’m up for and it will only make me smarter and better for it with different people. Any time you can get an opportunity to work with some really smart people who go about the weekend maybe in a different way, it only gives me a better experience on what’s going on. I’m not really putting any more pressure on me, but it’s something I pay attention to and I do want to do a good job. I want to take care of their racecar and want to give good feedback. M&M’s, SNICKERS Xtreme and Toyota, when Kyle Busch is back, they want a top-tier ride where he can get back in and win. We’ve got to keep learning with the new rules package, and I want to be a good teammate to the three other guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. No more pressure, really, but definitely things that I’m paying attention to in order to make sure I don’t make any dumb mistakes.”
Was it rewarding to know that former teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards supported your move to the No. 18 Camry?
“Yeah, I think it certainly played a key role in Carl (Edwards) and Matt (Kenseth) putting in a good word for me, and Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) – you know, obviously I was a teammate for a few years with Carl and Matt and really had a good relationship with them, and I think they’ve seen that transition from one team to another and so I don’t think I would be in the 18 SNICKERS Xtreme Camry without their help. And then, certainly Kyle giving a recommendation and Denny, we’ve all got to work together. I’m so grateful for that.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine