Ragan on pole, hopes he can hang on in race
David Ragan has the pole and the Cup drivers are back in force for Saturday's Busch Series O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, writes Mark Ashenfelter.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Will David Ragan -- or anyone else for that matter -- keep Saturday's O'Reilly 300 Busch Series race at Texas Motor Speedway from becoming another version of the Busch and Burton show?
The last two times the series visited 1.5-mile facilities, it came down to Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton, with Burton pulling off the win each time. Burton didn't run at Bristol or Nashville and carries a two-race winning streak into the event.
The same can be said for Carl Edwards, the series' points leader who ended up in Victory Lane the last two times out. Edwards will start the race in second, while Burton starts in the ninth spot.
But the man of the hour in Thursday's qualifying session was Ragan, whose lap of 191.063 mph was well ahead of Edwards' 189.354. Kyle Busch's lap of 188.719 mph was good enough for third, though a ways behind the Roush Racing teammates.
Ragan has accomplished the easy part of the equation, now he just has to back it up on the track.
"On one side you want to celebrate. Yeah, we were the fastest car and we won pole qualifying, but at the same time a lot of pressure is on us," Ragan said Thursday night. "We're going to be leading the field to the green on Saturday and I can't screw up getting into Turn 1 this time. If you're running 25th, not that many people look at you, but if you're on the front row, you've got quite a few people looking at you.
"But I feel like we've got a good enough car that we can hang in. Certainly Carl and Mark [Martin] have really good cars. Shane Huffman's got a really good car, so if we can just run in that top 10 [it will be a good day]."
For a driver such as Ragan, who sits third in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings behind Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya, a top-10 is a sensible goal. Especially in a field stacked with Nextel Cup drivers.
And the likes of Busch and Edwards figure to be at the head of the pack. Edwards, though, knows he had nothing on his teammate during qualifying.
"I felt like my car was really good and if I had another crack at it, I think I could have gone a little faster, but he did a great job," Edwards said of Ragan. "He did a great job driving it, and they must have had the thing handling perfectly. They did get a little later draw [in qualifying], but nobody else went that fast. So my hat's off to him, he was just faster today."
With a 321-point lead over Dave Blaney, Edwards will likely keep the championship picture in mind during the race. Busch, though, will still be looking for his first win in the series this season, despite having the dominant car on a number of occasions.
He expects to see a lot of familiar faces at the front of the pack.
"I think Carl's gonna be good. Jeff Burton will be there. Kasey Kahne's pretty good," Busch said. "If [Kevin] Harvick was in the [No.] 21 [of Richard Childress Racing, instead of Kevin Harvick Inc.'s No. 33], I think he'd be pretty good, but he skipped that ride this weekend, so I think we're OK with that."
Ragan, meanwhile, is fine not being considered one of the cars to beat. He just doesn't want to beat himself on the track. Especially at the drop of the green flag, when all eyes will be on his Roush Fenway Ford.
"I don't want to be running 15th on the first lap. We want to stay in that top-5, and I think we've got a good enough car where we can," he said. "Something that really helps qualifying here -- and this is the first time that I've thought about it before at Atlanta, California and here at Texas -- running the trucks here really does help a lot.
"Qualifying in a truck, you hold it to the floor and man, it feels so fast through the corners -- you're not going that fast down the straightaways, but through the corners it feels like you're flying. And I think that helped today, that feel, it reminded me of a truck qualifying here: flat-out and you almost get whiplash through the corner you're going so fast. But down the straightaway in a Busch car or Cup car, you keep that speed up, where in a truck you don't keep that speed up going down the straightaway."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
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