Ragan captures Brickyard pole
Second historic track in his sights
INDIANAPOLIS - David Ragan, in the midst of a career breakthrough, added the pole for today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to his suddenly improved résumé.
Ragan, 25, earned his first career Sprint Cup Series victory this month at Daytona, long considered to be the crown jewel track of NASCAR. Indianapolis ranks among the world’s more prestigious tracks, and Ragan’s pole-winning run yesterday was no small feat.
He made his run late in the session, with three-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson holding down the top spot on the leaderboard. Ragan turned a lap of 182.994 miles per hour in his Roush Fenway Racing
“It will be cool to lead the pack,’’ Ragan said. “It’s an honor to be here and to be the fastest guy at Indy. This is a great track. Any type of accomplishment you get here is cool.’’
It’s Ragan’s second career pole. His first came in April at Texas.
“It was a good lap, I didn’t make a mistake,’’ Ragan said. “It wasn’t as aggressive as I wanted to be. But I knew if I hit my marks, had a conservative lap, I’d at least have a top-five.’’
Kasey Kahne made his qualifying run after Ragan and jumped in front of Johnson with a lap at 182.927 m.p.h.
“We just have to be there at the end,’’ Kahne said. “It seems that’s how this race is won, being up front at the end. You’re not just going to pass five, six cars. When you get to Turn 1, you’ve got to be one of those top couple of cars more times than not.’’
Johnson, the five-time defending series champion, fell to third. His lap of 182.801 m.p.h. in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had led the qualifying session until the runs by Ragan and Kahne. He wasn’t upset though, and knows his past success at Indy will come into play today.
“This track is clearly unique and we don’t race on anything else like it,’’ Johnson said. “When you get it right, you have an advantage.’’
Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski qualified fourth and fifth in their Dodges, and the drivers have already heard from team owner Roger Penske on what they’ll need to do to win.
“He made a phone call last night and reminded us that we needed to try two tires in practice,’’ Keselowski said. “He’s got this whole game plan and how the strategy is going to play out. He definitely studies this race. He loves coming here.’’
Denny Hamlin qualified 14th, but he’ll have to drop to the back of the field at the start of the race as a penalty for changing his engine. The move was necessary because the engine in his Joe Gibbs Racing
Dropping to the back of the field probably won’t work to Hamlin’s advantage, either. Only four of the previous 17 Brickyard winners started worse than 15th, and the farthest back a winning driver has started was Jeff Gordon at 27th in 2001.
“It’s just going to be a tough task coming from the back,’’ Hamlin said. “Everybody runs the same speed, so it’s fairly impossible to pass. You can have a 20th-place car, and transplant that guy to coming out of pit road first and go win the race. It’s just one of the deals where we know we’re going to fight track position.’’