In the build-up to the Daytona 500, prognosticators of all kinds are trying to determine who might be a contender to take the checkered flag at the world center of racing. Odds makers in Las Vegas have their hands full this year, as the Gen-6 car is no longer a brand new commodity, and numerous teams have to be put into the equation with a chance to win. One of the drivers who should be on everyone's radar is former Talladega winner David Ragan.
Recently, the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner was able to get Ragan to take a break from his many other racing endeavors to answer a few questions about the race car, the sport, and the offseason.
1. What are your feelings about the 2013 season as a whole, as well as your hopes for the 2014 Sprint Cup season?
"We had a pretty good season last year. Obviously, the win was a big deal and big moment for Front Row Motorsports, and we also had some good finishes and good qualifying efforts on some short tracks. But we had some engine issues for a few races at the end, and that knocked us down a couple spots in the points, which was disappointing. For this year, we just want to perform more consistently. We need to have fewer bad days."
2. How do you feel about the Gen 6 car, as opposed to the COT?
"I think NASCAR did a good job with the Gen-6 car. The most important thing – and I think NASCAR does a good job at this – is to keep evolving and keep trying to make the racing better. The changes they made this off-season are geared toward that, too."
3. As you prepare for the 2014 NASCAR season, how do you feel your chances are for the rest of the "regular season"?
"I like our chances. Unlike last year, we have some notebooks to work off of for this car, even with the changes NASCAR is making. I think we’ll continue to perform well at the restrictor-plate tracks, and we’ll continue to do well at places like Bristol and Martinsville, and the road courses, too. We have some work to do on the intermediate tracks, but we made some strides on those, too, last year that we can keep building on this year."
4. Aside from yourself, who are the drivers to watch out for in 2014?
"You can never overlook Jimmie Johnson. He’ll always be a threat. And then the contenders from last season like Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. And it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on the Stewart-Haas team with Tony coming back and Kevin, Kurt and Danica all there now. It should be fun to watch."
5. Do you follow the Grand Am series at all? If so, what is your opinion of the reunification of sportscar racing in 2014?
"I don’t follow it too much, but I think it’s a great deal to unite. It makes it stronger."
6. What is your favorite racetrack?
"I would say Richmond. It’s a fun track and I’ve always run well there and it’s always packed. It makes for a fun weekend every time we go."
7. With NASCAR seeming to favor more strict enforcement of the rulebook, and imposing stricter penalties, do you think that this effort will stifle competition?
"It’s healthy for any governing body to strictly enforce its rules. And NASCAR has always done a great job of that mechanically. It’s good to see them focusing more on the procedural side, too, making procedures more black and white. There’s always going to be a little gray area, but they do a good job of defining things the best they can."
8. With talk of the NASCAR silly season already underway, do you have any announcements to make regarding your racing future?
"We haven’t even gotten to Daytona yet, so no. I’m ready to go racing another year with Front Row Motorsports. Bob Jenkins has a good program, a good approach, and we’re growing as a team. It’s fun to be a part of."
9. I recently completed the Competition 101 Racing School, driving 20 laps in a former NASCAR stockcar. Do you think that programs like this are important to help fans understand the sport more?
"Absolutely. Not only does it help them understand the sport more, but it allows them to feel the adrenaline first-hand. All the schools that are run by people like Andy Hillenburg and Richard Petty, they give fans an experience that you can’t get in other sports. You can’t go run a play with an NFL team or anything like that. So it’s a neat aspect of our sport."
10. How was your off season?
"They’re always short and busy, but good. We had some downtime with family over the holidays. We also went and ran a couple late-model races, which is good to keep us on our toes. And my wife and I took a little trip to New York City for our one-year anniversary. And now we’re getting ready to go Daytona already. But it’s an exciting time for Front Row Motorsports. We’ve got CSX and Farm Rich returning to our No. 34 car this season and we’ve got a lot of other good stuff in the works. We’re ready to go racing."
The West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner would like to thank David Ragan and the good people at Breaking Limits for helping to make this interview possible. Over the next couple weeks, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race at the end of February, as well as any other breaking news in the world of auto racing.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. The cars will also be on track throughout the "SpeedWeeks" leading up to the "Great American Race," including the Budweiser Duels qualifying races, which will be televised live on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
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