HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Taking a quick glance at the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, there’s good news for David Ragan and the No. 18 SNICKERS Xtreme team.
The interim driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Xtreme Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has moved up to 10th in the championship standings following last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. It is the second time in Ragan’s career that he’s been in the top-10 in the Sprint Cup points, the first being after the second race of the 2009 season, when he sat sixth following the season-opening Daytona 500.
Even better news? Ragan and the SNICKERS Xtreme team are headed to the second short-track race of this season – Sunday’s Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer. The first short-track race of 2015 was a good one for Ragan as he notched his best finish in his six-race tenure substituting thus far for the injured Kyle Busch.
It came in the form of a fifth-place finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway two races ago, leaving Ragan and Company with high hopes for the high-banked short track at Bristol this weekend.
So as the SNICKERS Xtreme team heads to Thunder Valley for the first of two races at the .533-mile bullring this season, Ragan’s top-10 position in the standings might be just the foundation upon which to build a big finish during Sunday’s race at “The Last Great Coliseum.”
DAVID RAGAN, Driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Xtreme Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Are you looking forward to returning to Bristol?
“I’m very much chomping at the bit to get to Bristol and see how things go with our SNICKERS Xtreme Camry, especially with how we ran the first short-track race on our schedule a few weeks ago at Martinsville. I think the racetrack has aged well since they grinded the top. You’ve got some guys who can really make their cars run well on the bottom groove, and you’ve got guys running around the top. I think it’s one of the best short tracks we go to. Some guys want to see the older Bristol come back. But from a racer’s point of view, I’ve had a blast the last couple of races at Bristol.”
How has the track changed at Bristol over the last few years?
“Bristol has changed a little the last couple of races there. The guys who can run the bottom, they can make the passes and win the race. But there’s still grip up top, so you see a lot of guys running up there. But, you’ve got to pass on the bottom. I don’t believe that Bruton (Smith, track owner) has made any more adjustments since we were last there, but it’s always fun. Your car has to withstand a lot at Bristol. Our team builds our cars a little tougher for short tracks. There’s a little heavier-duty bracing and some of the sheet metal that we use to support the body panels. They put in a little extra armor to handle the bumper tags and restarts and fender-to-fender matches that you might encounter.”
Do you feel like you and the team are starting to jell?
“I feel like we’ve under-performed the last four or five races outside of Martinsville, really. A lot of it has been just mistakes on my behalf, mistakes on the team’s behalf, but we’ve been really good. We’ve had some good speed and we’ve had top-10 cars, but we just haven’t been able to have a good, entire weekend until Martinsville. There, finally, we put together a good race where we weren’t very good Friday and Saturday of that weekend. At Texas, we had a better car than our finish indicated. Seemed like we were better on the long runs but had too many cautions there in the last 100 laps to make up any ground. We learn from each weekend and try to do things better going forward each week. We’re looking forward to another short-track race this weekend with our SNICKERS Xtreme Camry, and hoping that it leads to another good finish like Martinsville.”
Do you talk to Kyle much for input?
“I’ve done a good bit. I speak to Kyle once or twice a week – some by text, some by phone – and he can certainly give you some good tips. But the team has a lot of good information on trends from the beginning of a run to the end of a run, qualifying, how the track changes throughout a weekend, but there’s also a lot of other moving targets. He’s been at the team debrief the last several weeks, now, which is also helpful to me and the guys. You’ve got a new tire this year, you’ve got a new engine package, a new downforce package, so there are a lot of different things. But every race you run, you make some mental notes. Sometimes drivers can remember better than others. I try to write some stuff down so I don’t forget, but you look back at those notes and everybody sees and feels and hears different things. Yeah, Kyle can definitely help out some and so can Matt (Kenseth) and Carl (Edwards), Denny (Hamlin) – they’re great guys – but spotters can help, crew chiefs can help and so I definitely lean on everyone to try to see what they’ve had in their experience here that makes them good.”
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