David Ragan on the details of replacing Kyle Busch: ‘It can be a good thing for everyone’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – David Ragan is helping make the best of an unfortunate situation for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing but believes it’s a positive regardless for Front Row Motorsports.

Ragan began driving Busch’s No. 18 Toyota in a test session Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. As Busch recovers from the compound fracture in his right leg suffered in an Xfinity Series crash at Daytona International Speedway, Ragan will be the substitute for several races.

Though the team hasn’t released a schedule (and Ragan said Thursday there is “no hard timetable”), sources have told NASCAR Talk the plan is to keep Ragan in the car for nine races through the May 9 race at Kansas Speedway (and then turn the car over to JGR developmental driver and Camping World Truck Series winner Erik Jones).

Ragan said he was approached Monday afternoon by JGR after the team learned he wasn’t committed for an entire season in Front Row’s No. 34 Ford, which still is seeking sponsorship.

“I told them I’d have interest if we can get all the parties to mutually agree on a package that benefits us all,” he said. “This is an unfortunate situation that their guy is injured. I’m grateful to get in one of the premier rides in the sport. I can see where I stand in my career. It’s been a few years since I’ve been with one of the larger teams.”

Ragan, 29, raced full-time for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-11, winning at Daytona (summer race) in his last season with RFR and notching a best points finish of 13th in ‘08. He has spent the past three seasons at Front Row, scoring an upset victory at Talladega in May ’13.

Ragan expects to return to Front Row whenever his interim situation ends at JGR, but he said team owner Bob Jenkins and general manager Jerry Freeze were a little surprised by the pitch.

Ragan said the deal wouldn’t have worked if he had a fully sponsored season at Front Row, and sponsor CSX (which has an eight-race deal) helped move some of its races to accommodate his JGR races. (It also helped that Ford had no objections to a move to Toyota, though the manufacturer would have been limited in its ability to block it given Front Row’s status as a customer team that doesn’t enjoy the support of Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing or Richard Petty Motorsports.)  “I had to look at my career and my opportunities,” Ragan said. “I couldn’t let it pass. I’m very fortunate they were open to the idea. They are happy for me to be in a situation with quality people and a quality team.

“The stars just aligned right, and I think it can be a good thing for everyone. I’m going to work hard to be a good teammate and a good driver. I’ll only be better when I get back in the 34 car. And when Kyle’s back, he’s the man. Our sport is better with him. NASCAR needs Kyle Busch.”

Ragan said Front Row’s underdog team (which also fields Fusions for Cole Whitt and David Gilliland) might gain some ancillary benefits through increased exposure that could generate sponsor interest.

“There’s a new fan base I’ll touch,” he said.

Ragan experienced new methods Thursday with JGR’s four-car powerhouse having access to more technology for data acquisition during the test (which permitted computers and telemetry unlike typical NASCAR practices).

“They have a lot of smart people,” Ragan said. “It opens a lot more doors. You can learn a lot more over the course of a weekend.”

He also has some powerful allies in Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. As former teammates at Roush, Edwards and Kenseth both vouched for Ragan’s ability.

“When his name was brought up, a lot like when they brought up Matt Crafton (who subbed for Busch in the Daytona 500), I thought, ‘Man, that’s a great guy to be in that race car,’” Edwards said. “So, yeah, my vote was to put David in the car and the way I understand it, everybody felt the same way.”

Said Ragan of Edwards and Kenseth: “I had a good relationship with them. I don’t think I’d be in the No. 18 Camry without their help.”

Now that he is, the focus turns to maximizing his results. The Unadilla, Ga., native will make his JGR debut in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at a hometown track where he has raced since childhood, and his expectations are high. He didn’t dismiss the possibility of scoring a win – which would create an unusual situation in which he could make the Chase for the Sprint Cup and run for the championship over the final 10 races while being in a Front Row car.

“It is different when you are driving for a different team, and you realize the second half of the season, you’re going to be running with another group of cars,” he said. “It may be a situation where you get a win and could get into the Chase, but let’s not count our chickens before they hatch.

“That’s a great scenario that if it played out, would be a lot of fun and something cool to talk about.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings