Front Row Motorsports’ drivers David Ragan, David Gilliland and Josh Wise all sit outside the top 25 in points in NASCAR’s top division, but the team is still riding high three months after the two Davids finished first and second in the May 5 Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The three roll into Pocono Raceway for this Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR race with hopes for decent finishes but knowing that, unlike the big money teams, their path to Victory Lane isn’t quite as easy.
For Ragan, who captured his second career win, the victory was proof he has what it takes to win whether it’s with a major big-dollar team like Roush Racing or a smaller team like Front Row. For Front Row Motorsports, it proved that smaller teams not only can compete in NASCAR but when the situation presents itself, those teams can win.
Ragan, 27, who drives the No. 34 Taco Bell Ford, said the win at Talladega ranks higher on his list of victories than the first win he ever registered in the series’ top circuit when he took the checkered flag at Daytona in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July 2011.
“The win at Talladega is my biggest win. I think just winning a first time race win for Front Row Motorsports kind of someone that wasn’t expected to win was a great story, a one-two finish. My win at Daytona with UPS and Roush was certainly a big day for me but you’re expected to win in equipment like that and so to get an unexpected win just shows that we have a lot of passion, we have a lot of desire and we work extremely hard to run as best we can.”
Ragan said getting the victory does put pressure on the team but, “I don’t know that anyone expects us to repeat anytime soon but we always put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win. After you win one you kind of show everyone that you can win and that’s half the battle sometimes.”
The one-two finish — Wise, who drives the No. 35 MDS Transport Ford, finished 19th after a blown tire on the last lap — gave the low-money operation big-dollar exposure and gave everyone at the team’s shop in Statesville, N.C. a big morale boost.
“It was really special for all of us that were there and all the guys back at the shop,” team General Manager Jerry Freeze said.
“On Monday, talking to the guys in the shop, they all felt they were a part of it. They all played a role in building that car. They all had their hands on it in some way. We all felt we played a part in that, so that was really neat. For many people there that was their first win in the Cup Series,” Freeze said.
Freeze said that Ragan’s last lap pass of Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson — with Gilliland pushing him to victory — on that early May Sunday validated what the team has been trying to do.
“When it all does come together … it’s definitely very, very rewarding and satisfying,” Freeze said.
Freeze said Ragan, who came from Roush Fenway Racing where he drove with Kenseth and Edwards, has brought experience to the team that has helped the entire operation from the mechanical side to the sponsorship side.
“More than anything, what David Ragan brings to the table for us, more so than the car side, is on everything we do on the sponsorship side. He is one guy out of the drivers I’ve dealt with in the past that really, truly gets his role is in helping to activate a sponsorship. He’s never, never going to stop and question what you’re trying to do.”
Freeze said Ragan has “been really good on the business side for us. And David Gilliland does the same thing.” Gilliland, who’s been with the team the longest, drives the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford.
Good sponsorship relations is important for a smaller team but the publicity that comes with winning a race is one of the best selling points for any team, even more so for the smaller teams. After the win at Talladega, Freeze said, “The phone definitely started ringing but more than anything a lot of the sponsorships we were working on that we just weren’t able to close, we were able to close a few of them.”
“That right there kind of helped us, we are able to say, look we are capable of winning races,” Freeze said. “We wouldn’t have ever been able to say that before … We can hang our hat on that for some time to come that we are a team that’s capable of winning.”