Michael McDowell and David Ragan (pictured left to right, above) enter this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway looking to win, playoff race and championship attention be damned.
“I go to Talladega thinking that we can win — and I think that a lot of drivers don’t approach Talladega the best way,” David Ragan told RACER. “I think we all think of some of the negatives that can come from speedway racing — the heartache of being involved in someone else’s accident, the magnitude of the wreck that you have — and while those are certainly accurate descriptions of speedway racing, I think of the other side.
“I can do a good job, put myself in the right position, stay out trouble, have a fast car. I know that I can win. So yes, I go to Talladega thinking that I’ve got to run a perfect race and we’ve got to have good strategy, knowing if we do all of those things, we’ll have a shot to win — and those are important days for us.”
The Front Row Motorsports teammates will be aware of the 12 drivers vying for a crucial victory or hoping to survive what is usually a wild and unpredictable day. But for a smaller organization such as that of Bob Jenkins’ two cars, Talladega levels the playing field and presents an opportunity to pull off an upset. Ragan did as much with Front Row in May 2013.
Looking for playoff spoilers? Don’t pass by the Fords with the 34 and 38 painted on the side. Driving a blue oval has never been better for Front Row since the manufacturer has become a force to be reckoned with on the restrictor plate tracks.
Ford has won the last six straight races at Talladega. Three of the last five races at Daytona have also been won by a Ford driver.
For McDowell, his first goal is making sure he’s around at the end of the race. After finishing ninth in the Daytona 500, McDowell was involved in a wreck in the spring Talladega race. Admittedly, Talladega has been a problem for him recently as McDowell has wrecked out of the last three ‘Dega races.
Daytona has been far kinder. McDowell has earned three top-10 finishes in the last five races and led 20 laps in the July race before being caught up in a wreck with five laps to go while running in the lead pack.
“My confidence level is high just because our cars have been so fast,” McDowell told RACER. “Talladega or Daytona, you always sort of have a shot but having a car that’s really fast makes all the difference in the world. Daytona, being able to lead laps and pull the lines and really be wedged in that first two rows most of the race definitely gave me a lot of confidence. Talladega hasn’t been kind to me but it’s a good time to switch that up.”
And, balancing running his race Sunday afternoon and not wanting to interfere with the playoff drivers?
“I don’t think you have to balance it at all, it’s such a crapshoot for everybody,” McDowell said. “Just go. I think it’s different at other tracks, Richmond or places like that, but (here) you can’t help but be three and four wide and wide open. So, you don’t really think too much about the playoff drivers at Talladega.”
Entering Talladega working on three consecutive top-10 finishes and 10 top-10 finishes in 23 career starts, Ragan doesn’t want to do “anything dumb” when it comes to the playoffs but his priority is maximizing his own day for his team and sponsors. Especially this weekend, as 1000Bulbs.com is both his primary backer and the race entitlement sponsor.
“It’s so cool to see our partners at Front Row Motorsports investing in the world of NASCAR racing, and Talladega is a special track to me and our team, winning there and being so close to home,” said Ragan. “They’ve got a lot of passionate race fans that come from all over the world to watch that race, so I think it’ll be a great weekend for 1000Bulbs.com and it’s awesome to have partners like that who are doing other things in the sport as well.”
With Ragan sitting 25th in the overall standings and McDowell 26th, Talladega and the rest of the remaining races are of the utmost importance to Front Row. The organization wants to place both cars inside the top 25 by season’s end, something it has not previously done.
“It’s a huge goal; it’s the goal we set and can do that,” said McDowell. “The points for the top 25 are going to be all about Talladega and Martinsville. Those are the two deciding races.”
Ragan feels closing out this milestone will be the last box to check for his team this year.
“That’s really the only goal we haven’t met this year,” he said. “We wanted to qualify in the second round more than we did last year … and we’ve been able to do that. We’ve had more top-20 finishes this year than we had last year, so we’ve had a good season that’s had a lot of progress, but yes, to finish in the top 25 in points is just another step in the right direction.
“Talladega will be an important race to try to score the most points that we can, and I think we’ve got a good chance to do that. We’ve got three or four really good tracks for our team coming up, so Talladega is the next one on our list that we’re focused on.”