Phoenix Race Report: Wrecks and Brakes Hamper Drivers’ Days

David Ragan, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
Starting Position: 24
Finishing Position: 38

For the second week in a row, “wrong place, wrong time” was the story of David Ragan’s day. He and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team started Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 in the 24th position and spent the first half of the race battling a loose car. But by Lap 154 of the 312-lap event, the team had improved the car’s handling and Ragan was driving the best Ford Fusion he’d had all day.

He was running in 27th and chasing down the car of Danica Patrick during a long-green flag run when, on Lap 185, Patrick blew a tire and bounced off the wall. She caromed back into Ragan’s path, causing an impact that wrecked both cars.

The damage sent the No. 34 team to the garage to work on repairing the front end for the second consecutive race. Eighty-nine laps later, after extensive repair and rebuilding, the team sent Ragan back on track to try to finish the race. His still-wounded Ford Fusion was only able to turn one more lap and he was forced to bring it to the garage and end his day. He was credited with a 38th-place finish.

Comments from Front Row Motorsports team driver David Ragan after the Phoenix race:

“We made a lot of improvements to our Front Row Motorsports Ford during the race and we were probably the best it had been the whole race long. A lot of people were having tire issues. I saw the 10 blew the tire, and I never thought she’d come across the track that fast. Typically when you cut a tire you kind of ride the wall. Just unfortunate being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but nothing we could do. We’ll work on our cars and move on to Las Vegas.”

David Gilliland, No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford
Starting Position: 31
Finishing Position: 37

David Gilliland took the green flag in 31st position with high expectations. His No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford had been fast in practice and he looked forward to having a competitive car for Race 2 of the 2013 season.

Like his teammate, Gilliland battled a loose car in the early parts of the race. But pit strategy and a little luck were on his team’s side. After an early yellow flag on Lap 47, the team stayed on track instead of pitting, putting Gilliland in fifth position for the restart. Despite having a field of cars with fresh tires behind him, he hung tough in the top 10 for the next green-flag run. Crew chief Frank Kerr made the call to stay out once again when the yellow came out nine laps later.

Gilliland restarted in eighth on Lap 69 and, over the ensuing laps, tire wear started to slow his Long John Silver’s Ford down. He was back to 17th and preparing to make a green-flag pit stop when the caution came out, giving the team a break and the opportunity to get fresh tires under a yellow flag instead of green.

For the next 100-plus laps, Gilliland kept a solid hold on a spot just outside the top 20 as a long green-flag run had cars strung out single file with few opportunities to pass. His good day came to an abrupt end, though. The No. 38 blew the right front tire, sending Gilliland into the wall and then to the garage. They were unable to return to the track to make up any lost ground and they finished in 37th.

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

“I don’t know if we ran something over or what, but we ended up blowing a right-front tire. We’ve seen a lot of that today. Our car was fine for over 200 laps, so I don’t really get it. Our brakes were good. Everything felt good, but it’s really disappointing because we were running really well. It’s probably the best we’ve run at this style of race track in a long, long time, so we’ll take the good out of that and go on and build on it. But this really puts us behind with two more torn-up race cars.”

Josh Wise, No. 35 Blockbuster Ford
Starting Position: 36
Finishing Position: 35

Josh Wise lined up 36th for Sunday’s event, looking for a solid run for his Blockbuster Ford team. In the early run, the team worked on handling issues similar to those of their teammates, making chassis and air-pressure adjustments for the first few pit stops.

Wise also had to battle another challenge of the day for many drivers: track position. Long green-flag runs strung out the field and made it difficult to climb up the leaderboard.

Wise’s team steadily worked on the car’s balance, but then faced an unexpected problem on Lap 125, when the driver reported brake issues. He drove his Blockbuster Ford to the garage where the team discovered a loose brake line and had to spend multiple laps repairing it.

Wise returned to the track 18 laps down and in 39th position. He was able to gain four positions over the remaining 173 laps and finished in the 35th position.

Comments from Blockbuster team driver Josh Wise after the Phoenix race:

“That brake line problem unfortunately set us back to a place we couldn’t really recover from. We got our Blockbuster Ford running OK over the course of the race but we had lost too much ground. We did manage to pick up a few spots, though, to get the best finish possible and we’re bringing the car home in one piece. With this being the first race of this type in the Gen-6 cars, there was a lot we just couldn’t predict in race conditions. So we definitely learned some things and we’ll be better for it the next time.”