David Ragans victory in the spring at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway still ranks as one of the biggest surprises of the Sprint Cup Series season.
More than five months later, Ragan and his Front Row Motorsports team are still basking in the afterglow of that victory, which was the first for the organization.
While statistics alone have not shown a dramatic improvement in Front Rows ability to compete regularly with the likes of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, the organization continues to make progress.
A 12th-place finish at Bristol, Tenn., by Ragan and a 17th at Atlanta for David Gilliland were steps in the right direction. Also, the organization was invited to participate in tire tests for the first time.
As Ragan prepares to return to Talladega for Sundays Camping World 500, the Observer spoke with him about this season, his victory and the growth of the Front Row organization.
Q: What did the Talladega win mean for you and the organization?
A: For me, and Im a relatively young guy still trying to make my mark in the sport of NASCAR, it was big for me, big for my confidence. For our team, I dont know if we can really say how big it was. To get your first win as an organization, a lot of these guys on the team it was their first win, or first win in a long time. It was big to get that victory but it was equally as big to have my teammate (Gilliland) finish second. We did it as a team. I couldnt have won the race without him and he probably couldnt have finished second without me. It was a great finish to a good day. We still reap some of the benefits. Even if we are having a bad weekend or bad day, we can go back to that weekend at Talladega and crack a smile.
Q: How did the win change or help in the progression of Front Row?
A: I think the win was a catalyst for some talks with some potential sponsors that we had been talking with but had not closed the deal. Since that time weve had a couple of our sponsors sign up for more races. Weve had some improvement in our mile-and-a-half and downforce programs. Weve seen confidence in the shop its very hard to ask shop employees five, six days a week 45-55 hours a week on a grind trying to improve your cars, improve your finishing position. Having that trophy they can walk by or those banners in the shop kind of gives them a sense of pride of what were all working toward. It gives them motivation to keep working hard. Were still a young team in the sport with a young driver, a young owner and some young employees.
Q: Front Row probably was not your first choice when you found yourself looking for a job, but has it turned out to be a good fit?
A: When I left Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2011 that was the first time I was really a free agent in my whole career since Id been racing my familys ARCA team back in 2004. It was tough. I didnt really know how to approach owners. I didnt have an agency to put me in contact with certain guys. I didnt have a sponsor that was piggybacking on me.
When I found my home at Front Row I was concerned because it was a smaller team, less funded, it didnt have the resources that Roush Fenway had during my tenure there. I adapted, learned to work hard with what we have and I wouldnt change a thing. Ive made some great friends which I otherwise wouldnt have made. I still have potential to continue to get better and my tenure has been enjoyable. Absolutely I want to be on a team that can contend for wins or championships on a regular basis. Front Row is not there today, but in the next few years maybe they are.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.