Watkins Glen Race Report: Ragan, Gilliland Earn Top-25s

David Ragan, No. 34 Taco Bell Ford
Starting Position: 31
Finishing Position: 21

David Ragan earned a top-25 finish Sunday in one of the Sprint Cup Series’ always-tricky road course races. Aside from the normally uncommon right-hand turns, the day also brought some other challenges, including overheating and dodging wrecks.

The No. 34 Taco Bell Ford started in 31st. Ragan had moved up to 27th when he reported his temps were getting hot, forcing an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 21 to clean grass off the grille and putting the team on an off-sequence cycle. From there, they just worked to tweak the car’s handling throughout the day as Ragan persevered and hung tough around the top-25 mark for much of the afternoon.

As the race entered its final 10 laps, a multi-car wreck in Turn 4 gave the No. 34 some damage, forcing another unplanned stop. The pit crew made quick repairs and sent their driver back out in 25th. The race saw one final multi-car wreck with just five laps to go. This time Ragan avoided the trouble, enabling a final push on a restart with three laps remaining. He crossed the line for a hard-fought 21st-place finish for his best career result at Watkins Glen.

Comments from Taco Bell team driver David Ragan after the Watkins Glen race:

“It was a pretty crazy race as always. We had a pretty fast Taco Bell Ford. We got involved in one of those late-race accidents and had to come back down pit road. We didn’t have a lot of damage and we still came away with a decent finish and we raced hard. I think if we had five or six of these road course races a year, we’d get a better hang of it. But as soon as we get rolling, we take a break and then don’t come back to one until June of next year. But we had a good day and we’re ready to move on to Michigan next week.”

 

David Gilliland, No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford
Starting Position: 21
Finishing Position: 25

David Gilliland came to Watkins Glen eager to go road-course racing — a racing format he enjoys and excels at. After qualifying 21st, he took the green flag ready for 90 laps of action. And plenty of action he got.

After reporting to crew chief Frank Kerr that his Long John Silver’s Ford was a little loose, he found out just how loose it really was, smacking the wall on Lap 10 and incurring some damage to the left rear. He pitted under green for repairs, tires and fuel, sending him back to the 42nd position.

But as the field’s pit stops cycled around over the next 25 laps, Gilliland regained ground, climbing as high as fifth until it was time to pit for his next green-flag stop. For the next 15 to 20 laps, Gilliland hung around the top-25 mark. But twice during the middle portion of the race, the driver had to pit unexpectedly with the car overheating due to grass on the grille.

Each time he got knocked down the leaderboard, he kept pushing back up, and by Lap 81 he was in 25th. That was when Gilliland had to make one more unexpected pit stop when he incurred some damage trying to avoid a multi-car wreck in Turn 4. He took the ensuing restart in 26th and was able to pick up one more spot to cross the line in 25th.

Comments from Long John Silver’s team driver David Gilliland after the Watkins Glen race:

“We had a little bit of everything today. I got into the wall early, which affected the handling a bit. Then we had to pit a couple times overheating with grass on the grille and got some damage in that other late wreck, too. But with everything we went through, a top-25 isn’t too bad. We had a fast car in practice and think we definitely would’ve had more to show today. But we had a few setbacks that kept us from finishing as high as we probably could have.”

 

Michael McDowell, No. 35 Dockside Logistics Ford
Starting Position: 12
Finishing Position: 38

Michael McDowell and the No. 35 Dockside Logistics team lined up for Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen with high expectations. After running second fastest in final practice and qualifying 12th for the Cheez-It 355, the team planned on a day running up front.

The first third of the race went just according to plan. McDowell’s Ford Fusion was fast, just like in practice, and he held his position just outside the top 10 for the first 30 laps of the 90-lap event. But as he was coming in for his first scheduled pit stop, he told crew chief Todd Anderson that he felt something break on the suspension.

The problem sent the No. 35 team to the garage, ruining their hopes of a top-10 finish or better. After repairs, McDowell returned to the track 15 laps down and ready to gain back some positions. But once he was back mixed in with the field, he quickly realized the car still had a mechanical issue as it would not stay in gear.

He returned to the garage for additional repairs, returning to the track five laps later and 19 laps down – still with potential positions to be gained. But the twists and turns and starts and stops of the 2.45-mile road course took their toll on the transmission of the car and the team finally had to retire for good after 58 laps. McDowell was credited with a 38th-place finish.

Comments from Dockside Logistics team driver Michael McDowell after the Watkins Glen race:

“We were just biding our time. Our goal in that first run was to just save fuel and open up our window to make sure we could do it in two spots, so I just found my home there in 12th or 13th and was just trying to save fuel and conserve a little bit. As I came down pit road for that first stop the track bar mount broke and the rear end basically without that track bar mount just flip-flops around, so I just tried to nurse it back to the garage.

“We had a fast Dockside Logistics Ford today. We qualified in the top 15 and were racing in the top 15. I think we would have had a shot at a top-10. Who knows, with some adjustments maybe a little bit better, but we definitely weren’t in the way today. It’s unfortunate because we had high hopes, but this is part of what happens when you race – things break.”

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