HAMPTON, Ga.—His victory in the May 2013 restrictor-plate free-for-all at Talladega Superspeedway notwithstanding, David Ragan has lived below the radar in his three seasons with Front Row Motorsports.
Ragan’s low-profile status changed suddenly and dramatically last Saturday, however, after Kyle Busch’s No. 54 NASCAR XFINITY Series Toyota collided with a concrete retaining wall inside Turn 1 at Daytona International Speedway.
With his right leg and left foot fractured, Busch has undergone two surgeries since the accident and will be sidelined for an as yet indeterminate time. Ragan has been tapped as Busch’s replacement in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
More than three years removed from his last top-level ride at Roush Fenway Racing, Ragan finished 17th in last Sunday’s Daytona 500 in his first run in the No. 18 car. Clearly, Busch’s misfortune is a rare opportunity for Ragan, but the substitute driver is doing his best to defuse the pressure that might be expected under the circumstances.
“It is a different feeling,” Ragan acknowledged to reporters on Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX). “I don’t know that I would call it more nervousness—or you can’t really describe the amount of pressure because there’s a lot of pressure regardless of what car you’re driving—but absolutely working with a different team, working with a different group of guys, manufacturer—there are just a lot of newness that surround it.
“It’s different, but it’s also a challenge that I’m up for and will only make me smarter and better for it with different people. Any time you can get an opportunity to work with some really smart people that go about the weekend maybe in a different way, it only gives me a better experience on what’s going on. I’m not really putting any more pressure on me, but it is something that I pay attention to and I do want to do a good job.”
To Ragan, it’s important that he returns the car to Busch, when the time comes, with a current set of accurate notes, especially since he be the first to drive the No. 18 in competition under NASCAR’s new lower-downforce, lower-horsepower rules package this season.
“I want to take care of their race car and want to give good feedback,” Ragan said. “(Sponsor) M&M’s and Toyota, when Kyle Busch is back, they want a top-tier ride where he can get back in and win. We’ve got to keep learning with the new rules package and being a good teammate to the three other guys at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“No more pressure really, but definitely things that I’ll pay attention to make sure that I don’t make any dumb mistakes.”