NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kyle Busch’s injury provides a second chance for David Ragan

David Ragan greets fans as he is introduced before the start of the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015.
David Ragan greets fans as he is introduced before the start of the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. AP

Joey Logano knows a thing or two about the importance of second chances.

Which is why as much as he would like to win Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he will also have a rooting interest in another driver’s performance.

Logano and David Ragan grew up racing together, from Legends cars to NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series, and both saw their first opportunity with one of the sport’s elite teams end in disappointment.

After debuting in the Cup Series with Joe Gibbs Racing at age 19, Logano lost his ride at the end of the 2012 season. Ragan was thrown into double duty in both the Cup and what is now the Xfinity Series with Roush Fenway Racing in 2011 at age 21, but lost his ride following the 2011 season.

Logano, however, got a second chance and his career has skyrocketed since joining Team Penske in 2013, including his first Daytona 500 victory last weekend.

Ragan’s second chance begins Sunday, his first of several races driving the No. 18 Toyota for JGR and substituting for the injured Kyle Busch.

“David and I grew up racing, so when I heard that he was in the No. 18 car I was pretty excited about it,” said Logano, who will start Sunday’s race from the pole.

“I sent him a text and congratulated him because that’s an amazing opportunity. That’s a second chance right there.”

It is a second chance but it was not an easy choice.

Ragan has spent the past three-plus seasons driving fulltime in the Cup series for Front Row Motorsports, a fledgling organization with lots of growing pains but one that has grown leaps and bounds since its inception in large part to Ragan.

Ragan kicked off the 2015 season finishing 17th in the Daytona 500 for Front Row. Asking to step away from your primary job to take a fill-in assignment for another team is about as unconventional a request as there is in racing.

And Ragan was surprised Front Row and owner Bob Jenkins were willing to oblige.

“This is something that I felt was important to me and my career and it just goes to show you what kind of character Bob and Jerry (Freeze, general manager) have,” Ragan said. “I think they’re happy for me to be in a situation with quality people, quality team, but also to remember where I came from.

“If it were a situation where I was committed to a full-time program and we had a full-time sponsor, it would have been something that I couldn’t have made happen.”

Instead, Ragan will take the reigns of the No. 18 for at least the next several weeks while Busch begins a lengthy recovery process from a compound fracture of his right leg and mid-foot fracture of his left foot.

There is no set timetable for Busch’s return, although Ragan’s tenure in the car is not expected to last more than nine or 10 races.

Even that short period of time was an opportunity Ragan did not want to pass up.

“I’m 29 years old and I feel I’ve really learned a lot since my last season at Roush. To make a change after the first race of the season, it was a difficult request but anyone in the garage can vouch for what kind of racing organization Joe Gibbs Racing is,” he said.

“It’s a chance that I could get into a top car and kind of see where I stood as a driver and hopefully propel my career as sponsors and people in the industry are making decisions and choices for the next couple years.”

There is likely to be a period of adjustment for Ragan with his new surroundings but he’s gotten off to a strong start this weekend. He was third-fastest in Friday’s practice session and qualified 17th for Sunday’s race.

“To see him in practice, he was third on the board for a while and I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was like, ‘Holy cow,’ because all he apparently needed was a car,” Logano said.

“There’s a lot of learning curve ahead of him with a new team like that, but it was cool to see him up there running fast in that car. I don’t want him to beat me, but I’m rooting him on.”

Whether the situation pays dividends for Ragan’s career, he is under no illusion when it comes to his status with JGR.

“Kyle is the driver of the No. 18. I’m not auditioning for this ride. Kyle is one of the best in the sport and the sport needs Kyle,” he said. “There is nowhere in my mind where I’m working to try to replace Kyle because that’s just not going to happen.

“It’s unfortunate when a guy gets hurt – that could be me, that could be anyone. I’m just glad I can help out.”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.