HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – When David Ragan first got the assignment as fill-in driver for the injured Kyle Busch, he likely had a few races circled on his calendar. The first of those would be Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Why? Well, the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) can look back at the No. 18 team’s record at the 2-mile oval and it paints a very optimistic picture for Ragan’s chances this weekend.
Busch and the Interstate Batteries team has posted back-to-back wins at the Southern California track and have finished no worse than third in their last four starts together at Fontana.
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will be the first of six races for Interstate Batteries for the 2015 season. Ragan has fond memories of watching the green Interstate Batteries car as he was growing up, whether it was Dale Jarrett’s 1993 Daytona 500 win in Interstate green, or Bobby Labonte’s 2000 Sprint Cup championship. He would like nothing more than add his name to the winning history of the green No. 18 Interstate Batteries teams of the past.
Ragan will be supported by the efforts of Joe Gibbs Racing’s founding sponsor and its social media campaign, which can be followed via Facebook (www.facebook.com/interstatebatteries), Twitter and Instagram (@InterstateBatts) with the hashtag #Relentless.
So while Kyle Busch won’t be able to defend his win from the past two years at Fontana, Ragan and his fellow Team Interstate drivers Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards hope they can feed off of the recent magic from the No. 18 team and make it three in a row for JGR in Southern California.
DAVID RAGAN, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
The No. 18 team has won the last two races at Auto Club Speedway. What are your thoughts going to California knowing the recent history the 18 team there?
“That makes me excited. I knew Kyle had won there recently at California, but didn’t know it was each of the last two years. That puts some pressure on the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Camry. It also gives you some confidence that your team has run well and your teammates have run well there. A lot of things change from year to year. Every track I’ve gone to so far with the 18 bunch, I’ve learned something and have experienced something a little different, and California could be a lot of the same. It’s going to be a lot of fun driving the Interstate Batteries car. I grew up an Interstate Batteries fan. This car has been a staple sponsor in our garage for as long as I can remember. That’s going to be one of the neat things, too, about California – to drive that bright green car.”
What are your thoughts heading to Fontana this weekend?
“California is fun place to race. You’ve got a lot of speed down those long straightaways, but you have some bumps and you have a lot of things there to challenge you. That’s the great part about our schedule – you have different types of racetracks every weekend and there’s no other similar track like California on our schedule. I know Kyle has run really well out there the last few years and the Toyotas are always strong there. I’m looking forward to making some laps around California because you can move around. You can run the apron down in (turns) three and four and you can run by the wall throughout the race. You have a lot of options when it gets time to racing other cars, so I’m really looking forward to California with our Interstate Batteries Toyota this weekend.”
What makes Auto Club Speedway a challenging racetrack
“California is a pretty straightforward racetrack that doesn’t have a lot of grip. It’s got a few bumps here and there and it’s important to dodge the seams. So you kind of know going into it what you need to be a contender at California. I enjoy it. It’s a neat racetrack and there’s certainly no racetrack similar to it on our circuit since they’ve repaved Michigan. You’ve got some bugs to work out there on Friday and Saturday, but it’s a fun place to race.”
What are the keys to success at Auto Club Speedway?
“I think the key is having a good-handling car so you don’t have to abuse the tires on the front half of a run because you can have long green-flag run. You’ve got to be able to move around and find what your car’s sweet spots are. Do you run the middle or do you run the top? What is your engine package like? So, driving for a different manufacturer here than in the past with a different rules package, it will be important to do some searching around on Friday and Saturday. Pit crews are important at every track but, at a place like California, they’re even more important so you can get track position and get out front in that good clean air. That’s important.”
Will you be asking some questions to find out what has made Kyle so dominant at Auto Club Speedway?
“Absolutely, I’ll definitely try to talk to Kyle. I’ve reached out to him every week I’ve been in the car, really, just to see the tricks and some of the things that have worked well for him in these cars. He’s had a different Sprint Cup crew chief in the past but, still, a lot of stuff carries over.”
Since Kyle can’t be in California to defend his win from the last two years, would it be a big deal to win one for Kyle?
“It would be big for myself, too, but also for the team and Kyle. The momentum that they’re going to have when Kyle comes back is going to be important. It’s important that I help Kyle’s team work well together over the next however many weeks it is so, when he gets back, the team can hit the ground running with him in the car.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine