David Ragan to drive No. 55 car for Michael Waltrip Racing beginning at Kansas

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David Ragan will drive the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine for the rest of the season, beginning May 9 at Kansas Speedway, Michael Waltrip Racing announced Tuesday.

This weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway will mark Ragan’s final race as a substitute driver in the No. 18 car for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing. Erik Jones is expected to take over the No. 18 car beginning at Kansas. JGR has not announced its plans.

Brian Vickers was to drive the No. 55 for MWR this season but missed the first two races as he recovered from offseason heart surgery and was sidelined two weeks after returning by recurring blood clots in his lungs. No timetable has been set for his return. Michael Waltrip is driving the No. 55 car this weekend at Talladega.

“Life has thrown a lot at MWR the first part of this racing season, but our team has stood tall and worked through it,” Waltrip said in a statement. “Our original plans for the No. 55 team have been challenged since December, and we felt it was important for our employees and our sponsors to solidify the remainder of the 2015 season. The opportunity to bring David Ragan into the team is incredible for a number of reasons. He will bring experience, consistency and a lot of confidence based on how he has been running with our Toyota teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. He also puts the No. 55 team and Aaron’s right back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup contention, which is a very positive turn of events for that team.”

Ragan is 19th in the points standings.

As for Vickers and Moffitt?

“There is absolutely no question about Brian Vickers’ ability, but there remains a question of his availability,” Waltrip said. “We are going to remain very close with Brian while he works on his plan to return. We have told him that MWR is here when he has a clear picture about what the future holds, but we don’t need to add any timeline pressures. He is working with a lot of medical advisors and once he has established his plan, we will sit down and discuss next steps.

“I’m really proud of the incredible job Brett Moffitt has done for us in the 55. He has been a big part of this organization for the last couple of years and he will continue in that role. With the limited number of starts Brett has in this industry, he has proven that he has the talent to be a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and we are still committed to helping him get that opportunity.”

Ragan, who will make his 300th Sprint Cup start this weekend at Talladega, looks forward to his new opportunity.

“The only way I can repay all the people I have to thank for making this happen is to go out and win races and get MWR, Aaron’s and Toyota in the Chase,” Ragan said in a statement from the team. “It’s going to be awesome knowing when I climb in the No. 55 at Kansas that car will be mine the rest of the season. I look forward to working with (teammate) Clint Bowyer, the crew and shop employees at MWR. It’s tough what’s happened to them this year but I hope I can come in and make 2015 something special.”

Ragan opened the season driving for Front Row Motorsports before taking over for the injured Busch at Atlanta in the season’s second race.

“We are grateful to David Ragan for his contributions to the growth of Front Row Motorsports and his commitment to our partners over the past three years,” said Bob Jenkins, car owner of Front Row Motorsports, said in a statement from the team. “He led us on our first trip to Victory Lane, and that’s a moment we’ll never forget. We wish him the best with his new team.

“As previously announced, Chris Buescher will be the driver of the No. 34 at Talladega this weekend. We are working on finalizing the driver line-up for races to follow and will announce those plans soon.”