Ragan Moves On from Daytona 500
David Ragan has been trying to let it go since February.
So when leading at Daytona with five miles to go -- again -- the last thing Ragan wanted to hear on his radio was "don't forget to stay in your lane until you cross the start/finish line."
"I was on Matt Kenseth's radio on that last restart and his spotter mentioned it," Ragan said. "And I said, 'You don't have to tell me, so don't even say it.' That kind of lightened the mood. Everyone's so tense there at the end. You don't know what to do, you don't know what's going to happen, if we're going to have another green-white-checkered. I thought we might have been a little close on fuel.
"Yeah, that's one thing I did not have to be reminded of."
After giving away a shot at winning the Daytona 500 with an ill-advised maneuver on the next-to-last restart, you could call Saturday night a bit of retribution. Or redemption. Ragan doesn't care, as long as you call him winner of the 2011 Coke Zero 400.
And he's got big plans after winning his first Cup race. Or not.
"I guess I'll go back home and hang out [Sunday]," Ragan said. "I was planning on cutting some grass and cleaning up around the house. I've got an appearance in Atlanta on Monday, so we've got to work Monday. I guess I'll hang out, go over and see [crew chief Drew Blickensderfer] or go have some dinner somewhere.
"I might not leave Daytona. I might just stay down here for a few days."
It's been said that good things come to those who wait. Even though he won't be 26 until December, it seems like Ragan has been waiting for a very long time. His father, Ken, drove a family-owned car for 50 Cup starts in the '80s but failed to record a top-10 finish. And until Saturday night, David had gone 162 races without a win in NASCAR's premier series.
His father watched the last few laps from the pit box, then stood in the back of the Daytona media center, watching his son answer questions as the race winner.
"It'll kind of [sink in] in the morning, I think," Ken Ragan said. "I'm sure I'll wake up several times during the night and realize David has just won a Cup race at Daytona. I don't know how much better it can get than that. I wouldn't swap this for anything."
But as nerve-wracking as it was for the ex-driver, it was doubly hard on David's mother, Beverly.
"I think it's a little bit tougher on my wife to watch David race as her son rather than me as her husband," Ken Ragan said. "Of course, I wasn't sitting alongside of her. But she gets a little bit antsy. She couldn't hardly watch that monitor that last lap. She was just beside herself when he won it."
After taking control of Mark Martin's ride in 2007 as a 20-year-old, Ragan has shown flashes of brilliance for Jack Roush's team. But after narrowly missing the Chase in 2008, he hasn't been able to harness that potential -- until now.
The heartbreak in February could have broken his spirit, but it seemed to make Ragan stronger. Since then, the No. 6 has run near the front more often than not. So winning Saturday night wasn't as much a surprise as satisfaction.
"If we would have won Martinsville this year, I would have said, 'Man, we've moved on past that Daytona race,' " Ragan said. "But coming back here, to get that win here at Daytona is that extra little bit that I wanted. Kind of like to show the Daytona race track, here's what we've got. That makes it a little bit more special.
"A win anywhere on the circuit would have been great and we would have moved on. But coming back here to Daytona and be able to run the same type of race we ran in February and learning from our mistake -- and not making that mistake despite a couple opportunities to do it on those last few restarts -- that's gratifying."
The longer David Ragan talked about his night, the realization of what he done began to sink in more deeply. And February became less and less important in his mind.
"It's going to feel so good," Ragan said. "I probably won't go to sleep [Saturday night]. I'm going to get back and watch some of the race, and just stare at that trophy maybe for a little while."