What’s next for David Ragan after MWR? Driver hopes new connections produce options

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The connections made this season by David Ragan might have been as important as the cars he has driven to showcase his talent.

With Michael Waltrip Racing shutting its doors after the Sprint Cup season, Ragan’s NASCAR future is far from certain. He has made a solid impression in qualifying the No. 55 Toyota, earning top-five starting spots in three of the past seven races, but a 12th at Daytona International Speedway has been his best finish since joining MWR three months ago.

It’s been a transient season for Ragan, who started the season-opening Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports and followed with a nine-race stint in place of injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing.

There are benefits to bouncing around, though, for a driver whose movement was limited for much of his career (with Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-11 and Front Row from 2012-14).

“I’ve met some new people with these opportunities that I didn’t know six months ago, or a year ago,” he told NASCAR Talk in a Saturday interview before the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “In the NASCAR world, a lot of it is who you know, who has a connection here or there.”

“I got to work with (No. 18 crew chief) Adam Stevens. Coach Gibbs, a legend in the sports world. I got to know some of the people at (sponsors) M&Ms Mars and Interstate Batteries. And got to work with Michael and the Aaron’s team. Some of the Toyota people, I didn’t know. I’d only driven for Ford my entire career. To open that door and see how that works to run their racing program, it’s been eye opening, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve made some good friends. Some guys who were practically neighbors, and I didn’t really know who they were. Definitely, I made some friends I’ll have for life.”

He also has been exposed to new technology, crediting extra time spent in Toyota Racing Development’s simulator with helping fine-tune his setups to arrive at the track better prepared (and in better position to qualify well).

Ragan said there are no regrets about leaving Front Row (where he won at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2013) because he wasn’t guaranteed sponsorship for a full season.

“If it had been a full-time deal, then I would have signed up for that at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I wouldn’t have left. But at the time, I didn’t know, and it allowed me to do something different.

“I’m a lot smarter driver than I was six months ago because I got to work with some really smart people who have a lot of resources at their disposal. It’s helped me be a better driver for whatever that next situation may bring.”

Ragan would like to remain in the Sprint Cup Series but said he would consider a competitive ride in the Xfinity or Camping World Truck series.

“Where I’m at in my career, it’s more about being competitive than just making a paycheck or being a Sprint Cup driver,” said Ragan, who has two Cup wins and has driven full time in the series since 2007. “I don’t want to be in a position where I’m 35th in qualifying, and you finish 30th every week. That’s no fun. It’s a way to make a living and stay involved, and it’s better than the alternative of nothing, but I don’t want to be in that position.

“So I’ll try really hard to try to find something competitive in one of the top three series where I feel like I can go out and win some races and race for a championship.”

A key could be bringing sponsorship. Aaron’s, which backs the No. 55, hasn’t decided on its 2016 plans but said “NASCAR will be an important part of our future” in a release last week.

Would the Atlanta-based company be interested in staying with a driver from Unadilla, Ga.?

“There may be a chance,” Ragan said. “I’m sure they’ve got a lot of things they’ve got to go through and a process that involves looking at their program and what kind of money they spend and where.

“I hope I have a good chance to make my case and to be with them in the future. They’re a great company. They’ve been around NASCAR for a long time.”

Ragan, who turns 30 in December, is hoping to stick around for a while, too. He hopes that posting solid results alongside championship-caliber teammates such as Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer will help make his case.

“Hopefully, it’s that David Ragan is a good driver and good spokesperson who takes care of his equipment and can get out of a race car what one of the best drivers can,” he said. “I’ve had some of the best teammates in the garage. I’ve held my own and did well and have done a good job being a teammate. Hopefully that will take notice around the garage.

“Having that right program that is funded (with) good employees, good manufacturing support and a good driver. You have to have everything come together. Hopefully I can be a part of one of those puzzles somewhere.”

Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list

Silly Season Scorecard: Christopher Bell moves back to JGR

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No surprise that Christopher Bell moves over to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Leavine Family Racing being sold and Erik Jones not remaining with JGR beyond this season. Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Monday.

While JGR lets the 24-year-old Jones, who has 133 Cup starts go, it brings in the 25-year-old Bell who has made 22 career Cup starts. Jones said before Sunday’s race he was “blindsided a little bit” by JGR’s move.

It’s part of the building momentum of Silly Season. In the last week, Team Penske signed Brad Keselowski to a reported one-year extension and Bubba Wallace said he has an offer for next year not only from Richard Petty Motorsports but also Chip Ganassi Racing.

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Aug. 10.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said in a press conference Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through at least 2021.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 10: Aric Almirola is in a contract year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said after the Aug. 9 Michigan race: “I haven’t really talked about that stuff for next year yet, but we’ve just been so focused and head down on digging and trying to make the playoffs and run well. We haven’t even really talked about it, so, hopefully, I stay here for a very long time to come and that’s what they had expressed to me when I came over here.”

No. 32: Corey LaJoie is in a contract year at Go Fas Racing.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports on Aug. 8 in regards to talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year: “We really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace said Aug. 9 he has an offer from Richard Petty Motorsports and an offer from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 car next season.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Leavine Family Racing announced it was selling its assets earlier this week. The buyer has not been announced. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021.

Christopher Bell to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021

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Christopher Bell will drive for the No. 20 next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced Monday, a decision that was expected with Erik Jones’ contract expiring after this season and it not being renewed. 

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there,” Bell said in a statement from the team. “At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021. He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR.”

Bell drove for JGR in in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019, winning 15 races, before moving to the Cup Series and Leavine Family Racing this season. Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it has been sold.

Entering Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC), Bell is 19th in points. His best finish this season is fourth at the first Pocono race in late June.

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.