Auto racing insider

Unadilla’s David Ragan is set to make his 250th career Sprint Cup start this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500. And for Ragan, 27, the start will be special for a number of reasons, among them the fact that he’ll run as the most recent winner at Talladega.

Back in May he scored a dramatic upset victory, taking advantage of a push from his Front Row Racing teammate David Gilliland to surge into the lead on the last lap and score his second career Cup victory.

The win stunned the racing world, as the fledgling Front Row team has nowhere near the resources of powerhouse organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

As Ragan and the circuit return to Talladega this weekend, he said another David vs. Goliath scenario isn’t out of the question. He said that the nature of restrictor-plate racing and the effects of the draft take away many of the advantages enjoyed by the bigger teams at other tracks.

“Racing at Daytona and Talladega require a different style to get to the front,” he said. “It’s all about getting to those last 10 laps or so with your car in good shape and a good plan of attack.”

Ragan, whose other Cup victory came at Daytona in 2011 aboard a Roush-Fenway Racing Ford, said he and his No. 34 Ford are ready for another try at Talladega.

“We’re running the same car,” he said. “We didn’t get any damage on it before, and we’ve been able to work on it and hopefully make it better.”

Ragan’s Talladega win didn’t cause an immediate change in his racing fortunes. He and Gilliland both have re-upped with Front Row for the 2014 season, and both drivers and the team continue to work under the reduced expectations that come with running with fewer dollars than the competition. But winning at Talladega has had its rewards.

“It validated the commitment of the sponsors we had, and it’s been a plus when it comes to sponsorship for the future,” Ragan said. “We expect to have an announcement on that in a few days.”

And the victory, Front Row’s first in Cup, has been something to savor over time.

“When it happens, you’re thinking about the next race and how you’re going to approach it,” Ragan said. “I’ve actually come to appreciate it more in the four or five months since then.”

Ragan also appreciates the fact that for 250 weekends he’s made a living doing something he loves.

“I’m very fortunate to have a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series,” he said. “There are thousands of men and women out there that would love to be in my shoes, so I do take it serious, and we work as hard as we can to try to get better. It would mean the world to me to help Front Row Motorsports continue to get better and continue to prosper. …

“It really has been a good ride, and we hope to keep it going. I’m only 27 years old, and I feel like I’ve got a lot of time left in this sport. I feel like I’m a smarter driver today than I was a year ago, and we’re going to keep working hard, and I guarantee we’re going to win some more races.”

K&N showcases youth: NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East, a developmental series for young drivers, will run its final race of 2013 on Friday at Road Atlanta. The race originally was scheduled to run at Rockingham Speedway but was cancelled, opening the door for the circuit's first appearance at Road Atlanta.

Austin Hill, 19, of Winston, is the circuit’s most recent winner, having won the Drive Sober 150 at Dover International Raceway on Sept. 27, but since he’s started only five of the circuit’s 13 races, he has no chance at either the championship or rookie-of-the-year honors. He ranks 22nd in the standings, behind leader Dylan Kwasniewski, who has five wins this season, but leads second-place Brett Moffitt by only five points, even though Moffitt is yet to win this season.

Hill is 10th in a rookie contest that is now led by Jesse Little, with Gray Gaulding and Kenzie Rushton tied for second, six points back.

Gaulding, at age 15, hopes to use the K&N series to advance to the higher levels of NASCAR and is upbeat about his chances at Road Atlanta after a successful practice session Wednesday.

“It’s a fun place to race,” he said. “There are a lot of elevation changes.”

And although he now considers Dover one of his favorite tracks, Gaulding, a native of Colonial Heights, Va., does see long-term benefits to running on a road course such as Road Atlanta.

“It’s a good training ground for the future.”