When David Ragan drove for Jack Roush, his goal was to win multiple races, lead laps and compete for the Sprint Cup championship.
With Statesville-based Front Row Motorsports, Ragans goal is to finish the season in the top 25, get more top 10 finishes and finish more races.
I always believe we can win, Ragan says late Thursday afternoon as he leaves for Darlington Raceway and Saturdays Bojangles Southern 500. But I dont expect it. We cant make any mistakes and a lot of things have to go our way.
At Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Sunday, a lot of things did. Ragan had a great run courtesy of a push from teammate David Gilliland, seized the lead, worried he made his move too early, held off Carl Edwards and won the Aarons 499.
I went high to block Carl, Ragan says.
I thought Tony Stewart said you arent allowed to block.
Just Tony, Ragan says. You cant block Tony. You can block everybody else.
The finish was Ragans first finish in the top 10 this season and the second Sprint Cup victory of his career.
Ragan, 27, won the 2011 summer race at Daytona International Speedway when he drove for Roush. His primary sponsor then was UPS. When UPS pulled its advertising Ragan was without a ride.
Front Row hired him last season. The team has fewer employees, money and resources than the contenders and, until Sunday, had never finished in front.
Its humbling, says Ragan. Makes you appreciate things a little more. I did take it for granted, thats for sure.
He crossed the finish line and saw his father, former Winston Cup driver Ken Ragan. He encountered Edwards who told him, Good job. Jimmie Johnson offered him a thumbs-up. Former crew members congratulated him. So did Gilliland, who finished second.
Then the real celebration began. As any driver with perspective will tell you, celebrating with your team, with the people who put you in position to win, is like winning a second time.
Ragan is unlikely to win once again at Darlington. To win a Sprint Cup race is terribly difficult for even the elite teams. There will be frustrating practices and races in which Front Row finishes near the back.
Thats when Ill look back at last weekend and smile, Ragan says.
He smiled Sunday when, four hours after the race, he got in the airplane for the trip back to Charlotte. He is not a phone boy. When the race starts, the phone does not ride. He didnt have an opportunity to check the phone until he relaxed in the plane.
Word travels faster than any driver, even on a restrictor-plate track. Ragan had 260 text messages and more than 100 emails.
By Thursday, he had answered each.
I can tell you that Ragan is humble and gracious (and fun to be around).
Or I can show you.
Reid Flair, son of Ric Flair, died tragically in late March. Ragan, who grew up a fan of Rics, once sponsored a racing and wrestling event at his dealership, Ragan Ford, in Perry, Ga. Reid, a professional wrestler, competed on the card.
After Reids death, Ragan texted me and asked if I had an address for Flair. He wanted to send a sympathy card.
Flair will make an appearance Saturday at the Southern 500. Flair texted Thursday to say that hell find Ragan.
If I were betting, Id bet that Ragan finds Flair first.