By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season marked a return to Front Row Motorsports for David Ragan, who last drove for the organization in the 2015 Daytona 500. Entering the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Ragan had yet to finish better than 19th this season.
In the abbreviated first practice, Ragan and his No. 38 Camping World/Good Sam team elected to make single car runs. He placed his No. 38 Ford Fusion 30th on the speed charts of the 31 teams that took time. In qualifying, Ragan improved to 29th on the starting grid.
From the drop of the green flag, Ragan moved forward. He stayed towards the back of the pack, not by choice, but simply because there was nowhere to go as the field was two to three wide for the bulk of Stage 1. When the first stage ended, Ragan found himself in 23rd, well outside the Top 10.
Stage 2 was virtually a repeat of Stage 1 for Ragan. Despite having a fast car, he could not find a way into the Top 10 before the stage came to a close.
The third and final stage was very different from the first two stages. With about 20 laps to go, ‘The Big One’ broke out in the very front of the pack as Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger, and Kevin Harvick spun from second, third, and fourth respectively. Ragan drove through the smoke and chaos to emerge from the 17-car wreck with minor damage.
A few laps after the restart, Ragan tried to move forward once again. As he tried to slip behind Clint Bowyer with three laps to go, he made contact, sending Bowyer into Chris Buescher. Buescher, in turn, hit Ryan Newman, sending Newman across the track and into the inside wall.
This sent the race into overtime. As with any overtime at a restrictor plate track, it was chaotic as drivers darted to try to improve their position. A block by race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., caused the outside line to slow on the final lap, allowing Ragan to move forward on the inside line.
By the time they reached the start-finish line, Ragan had moved up to finish 10th. This is Ragan’s first Top 10 of the season, and the 37th of his career. Ragan jumped from 33rd in the Championship point standings to 28th, 304 points behind point leader Kyle Larson, and 99 points behind the Playoff cutoff, currently held by Trevor Bayne.
Ragan was surprised by the sudden switch from calm to aggression in the race,
“We had a really good car. It as a calm race until the last 50 laps. You just didn’t know when to be aggressive and when not to. We wanted to take care of our Camping World Ford. We got a little bit of damage there at the end and got damage from one of those wrecks and had to spend some time on pit road. The team did a great job fixing it up. The car still drove great at the end. We were able to get in the right lane, get the right help when we needed to.”
Ragan and his Front Row Motorsports team will now head to Kansas Speedway for the Go Bowling 400 riding a wave of momentum.