If you are just a casual NASCAR fan and got online Friday evening to check qualifying results, you may have been in for a surprise. There sat the news that David Ragan won his first career pole, after going zero for his first 152 attempts.
However, if you pay attention to the practices that precede qualifying, then news of Ragan's pole win wasn't actually that much of a surprise.
The Sprint Cup cars were on track once Thursday night, and again Friday afternoon to run their two scheduled practice sessions. And Ragan was fast in both of them.
He started the weekend off by taking the top speed in the Thursday night practice. His fast lap was clocked at 185.81 miles per hour, which was turned in 29.06 seconds. He backed it up on Friday by posting the sixth-fastest time of the second session. His fast lap in that practice was 183.56 miles per hour.
Then, in qualifying, he proved that it was no fluke. By winning the first practice, Ragan earned the right to go out for his time trial last among the 35 cars that are locked into the field. He took advantage of that position, and secured his first career pole with a lap of 189.82 miles per hour.
He bested his teammate Carl Edwards by two tenths of a second. Edwards will start second alongside Ragan.
So this begs the question, does Ragan's pole run mean anything once the green flag waves? After a breakout performance in 2008, Ragan has achieved very little in the Sprint Cup Series. He has failed to record a win in 152 career starts, and his best finish in the series is a third. He has accomplished that three times, most recently at Talladega in October of 2008.
Based on the way the weekend has started for Ragan, it would certainly appear that this has all the potential to be a history-making race week for him.
While practice speeds don't always paint an accurate picture of what will happen once the green flag waves, it is as good of a starting point as there is. Ragan's average lap speed during first practice was 19th-best, while running more laps than all but one driver. Most drivers, in fact, ran about half the laps as Ragan.
In the second session, Ragan's average lap speed was second fastest overall, behind only his teammate, Edwards.
The thing about all of this for Ragan that may be the most surprising, isn't necessarily the fact that he won the pole and has looked strong all weekend so far. The most surprising thing would have to be where it's all happening.
Through his career, Texas Motor Speedway hasn't exactly been his best track. His qualifying has always been solid, but the race itself has left a lot to be desired. In eight previous starts, Ragan has started inside the top 20 all but one time.
Once the race gets going is when the trouble begins. He has scored just one top-10 in Texas, and that was an eighth-place effort in the fall of last season. Three times in his career he has finished 37th or worse, and he has led a total of one lap in eight starts.
So, when you were filling out your fantasy racing lineups this weekend, I am sure that there were a lot of people that overlooked David Ragan and the No. 6 UPS Ford. But, if the last two days of on-track activity are any indication, he may be one of the drivers to beat come Saturday night.
I would be hard-pressed to say that I think Ragan may actually win the race, but anything less than a top-10 would have to be considered a major disappointment, with the way he has looked thus far in the Lone Star state. And for a driver that has seen almost nothing but disappointment for the last two seasons, a good solid top-10 could be almost as important as that first career win.
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