Love’s Travel Stops Ford Starts Strong, Felled by Cut Tire

David Ragan, No. 34 Taco Bell Ford
Starting Position: 41
Finishing Position: 27

Temperamental tires played a starring role in Sunday’s 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race in Southern California. Numerous drivers suffered blown tires on the rough surface of Auto Club Speedway, and Front Row’s drivers were no exception.

David Ragan and the No. 34 Taco Bell team battled a tough-handling race car for much of the afternoon. After starting 41st, Ragan felt his Ford Fusion was too tight through the turns and didn’t have enough grip, a condition that continued throughout the race. With seven cautions through the first three-quarters of the race — most due to blown tires on other cars — the team took advantage of each opportunity to bring the car to pit road to make adjustments, as well as put on fresh tires to avoid similar misfortunes themselves. Quick work by the pit crew helped pick up some spots on the race track as well.

Unfortunately, the tire bug finally got the No. 34 on Lap 167 as Ragan was pushing toward the top 25. The Taco Bell Ford suffered a left front flat, forcing an unscheduled pit stop and knocking the team back to 35th.

Ragan had worked his way back up to 29th when the final caution of the day came out on Lap 199 to set up a green-white-checkered finish. In the final two-lap dash to the finish, he picked up two more positions to cross the line in 27th. He also earned a bonus point for leading a lap earlier in the race.

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

“We didn’t have the best set-up for our car at the start of the race. Trying to figure out this new aero package, and doing it on a rough track here in California, made for a bit of a struggle at the beginning. But we made a lot of improvements, and our pit crew did a good job. To come home with a 27th-place finish, it doesn’t look great, but it’s a good day considering what could’ve happened when we had the left front tire issue. We’ve still got a lot of work to figure out how to make our Taco Bell Ford faster at these types of race tracks. But we salvaged a decent day today and we’re on to one of my favorite tracks next week in Martinsville.”

 

David Gilliland, No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford
Starting Position: 29
Finishing Position: 38

David Gilliland and the No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops team took the green flag in 29th with some confidence, knowing they’d had a solid car throughout the weekend. Gilliland found some early speed and grip, pushing his way up to 23rd. But as the car settled in over a run, he found it to be tight-handling through the turns, and he fell outside the top 30.

Frequent yellow flags allowed the pit crew to work on the car. And the adjustments helped, as the Love’s car got better as the day wore on. By Lap 140, Gilliland had climbed into the top 20.

But the tire epidemic hit the No. 38 on Lap 167 — the same lap as his teammate David Ragan. A blown tire sent Gilliland into the wall, causing heavy damage to the back of the car. The team pitted multiple times under the ensuing caution to make repairs and sent their driver back out in 37th two laps down.

Despite the heavy damage, Gilliland was able to continue logging laps, and he crossed the finish in 38th. He also gained a bonus point for leading a lap during the race.

Comments from Love’s Travel Stops team driver David Gilliland after the Fontana race:

“Our Love’s Travel Stops Ford wasn’t exactly what we wanted at the beginning of the race, but we worked on it and made it better. Frank (Kerr) made some good calls on adjustments and the pit crew did a good job making them quickly, and we definitely got better as the race went on. We didn’t have tire issues all weekend, so I think we must’ve run over something on the track to cut the tire. It’s frustrating that that happened because we could’ve had a much better finish with the improvements we were making.”

 

David Reutimann, No. 35 MDS Transport Ford
Starting Position: 33
Finishing Position: 29

David Reutimann started his first race for Front Row Motorsports Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. Rolling off 33rd, the driver reported similar concerns as his teammates, saying the MDS Transport Ford needed help getting through the turns better.

With every pit stop, the No. 35 crew worked to give him better control in the turns and more grip on the exits as the team hung around the top 30. By Lap 175, Reutimann had gained from his teammates’ tire misfortunes, moving past them, up into 27th.

But not many cars avoided tire problems this weekend and the MDS Ford wasn’t going to escape them either. The car blew the right rear tire on Lap 179, forcing an unscheduled pit stop. Reutimann returned to the field in 35th to make up what ground he could in the remaining 20 laps. Those laps did bring opportunities to make gains, as he moved up five positions by the time final yellow flag flew on Lap 199. He took one more spot on the green-white-checkered laps to finish 29th and also earned a bonus point for leading a lap during the race.

Comments from MDS Transport team driver David Reutimann after the Fontana race:

“This place is so tricky. And our car just wasn’t handing all that great. But Todd (Anderson) kept throwing everything he had at it. And with everyone else blowing tires, we thought we could be the beneficiaries of that and move up some more through the field. But then it was our turn and that set us back again. But we gained some spots at the end there, finished in the top 30 and learned a lot.”