No one has to tell David Ragan how Pocono Raceway has played a significant role in the playoff hopes of several drivers the last two seasons.
Kurt Busch qualified for last season’s playoffs when he earned his only win of 2016 at the 2.5-mile track in June.
Pocono also provided the golden ticket for Chris Buescher, who won last season’s rain-shortened race in August, qualifying him for the playoffs. It was also Buescher’s first career Cup victory.
Two months ago at Pocono, Ryan Blaney earned his first career NASCAR Cup victory, which also qualified him for the playoffs.
Now, with just four playoff slots, Ragan hopes Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono will pave the way to victory and his own playoff berth.
Admittedly, it’s been a difficult season for the Unadilla, Georgia native. He’s managed just two top-10 finishes in the first 20 races for Front Row Motorsports: 10th at Talladega and sixth earlier this month at Daytona.
Ragan is 29th in the Cup standings. He has an average start of 29.8 and an average finish of 25.0, along with three DNFs.
He also has never made NASCAR Cup’s playoffs.
With six races remaining in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, Ragan knows time and chances are both running out. Given how Pocono has been the gateway for drivers like Buescher and Blaney to make the playoffs, Ragan is hoping to add his name to that list.
“We’re starting to wind down the regular season before the playoffs start,” Ragan said. “So, if you can steal a win somehow, that can set you up for the playoffs. That would be huge for us and a big deal for our partners at Overton’s.”
Ragan finished 25th last month at Pocono, one lap off the lead lap. In 21 career starts there, Ragan has one top-10 finish (fifth in the 2008 mid-summer).
In the 10 races since Talladega, Ragan has struggled, posting three finishes of 30th or worse and five other finishes between 20th and 29th.
Still, he’s trying to maintain a positive attitude heading into this weekend that he can pull off an upset.
“It’s fun to go back after we were just there a few weeks ago,” Ragan said. “(The 25th-place finish is) still fresh in our minds, and we know some things that we can improve on.”