Throughout the 2009 season there were some drivers who seemed to fall off the map. They were the ones who rarely got mentioned on race day. Maybe they did not win a race. Maybe they just had a terrible season. Or maybe they just could not run up front long enough for anyone to bother mentioning them. There are a few drivers who fit this description, but the one I want to focus on is David Ragan.
Amidst his struggles in 2009, Ragan appeared to be in the background when it came to his other Roush Fenway Racing teammates. It seems like a lot of people have forgotten that Ragan narrowly missed the Chase in 2008. Some people may say, "Big deal. Why does that matter?" I’ll tell you why it matters; it matters because it means he almost made the Chase in just his second full year in the Sprint Cup series.
Then again, ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. But I digress.
In 2008, Ragan never knew the meaning of "sophomore slump". He never let being labeled a "dart without feathers" stop him from having the best season of his career, during which he got his career high best finish of 3rd at Talladega Superspeedway that April. He collected seven top-five finishes and seven top-ten finishes, and with only two DNFs, Ragan completed 99.3% of the laps in the thirty-six races, and ultimately ended up thirteenth in points.
When the 2009 season began, it seemed like Ragan was set to build on his successes from 2008 as he started the season off with a solid 6th place finish for the Daytona 500. Too bad his season went downhill for the most part. Ragan had only had one more top-ten finish-- 7th at the Pepsi 500 at Fontana in October. All in all, 2009 could be considered the worst season of Ragan’s Sprint Cup career.
The truth is 2009 is reminiscent of his rookie season in 2007. His average finish for both years is nearly the same—24.5 in 2007 and 24.4 in 2009—with 4 DNFs both years. He collected only two top-five finishes and no top-ten finishes in 2007 whereas he managed only 2 top-ten finishes and no top-fives in 2009. However, Ragan had a higher average start in 2009 (26.8) than he did in 2007 (29.1), but he finished 23rd in points in 2007. Ragan concluded the 2009 season with a 34th place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway, resulting in him ending up 27th in the final standings.
At the end of the 2008 season, it was announced that NASCAR would be limiting teams to only four full-time drivers, which meant that Jack Roush would have to go from having five drivers to four. So for 2009 the speculation then fell on whether David Ragan or Jamie McMurray would be the one to go. Early in the 2009 season, I heard some people say, "If David is doing so terribly then why doesn’t Jack keep Jamie instead?"
There were two main reasons I saw as to why McMurray was the one to go; One being the fact that Jack Roush has spent too much time, money, and effort to get Ragan to where he is now. The second reason? Well, it might have something to do with the multi-year sponsorship deal that Ragan signed with UPS whereas one of McMurray’s primary sponsors, Crown Royal, is going to the #17 of Matt Kenseth in 2010.
The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter how good or bad the driver is, if he’s got the sponsorship, you keep him. Not that I think Ragan is a bad driver. He has just had a lot of bad luck.
Despite his struggles in the Cup series in 2009, Ragan did pretty well running part-time in the Nationwide series, where he split the #6 Ford with Roush teammate Erik Darnell. In April, Ragan grabbed his first career Nationwide win during the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega when he made a last lap pass right at the line. He edged out Ryan Newman by a mere .030 of a second. Then in August when a late caution brought about an attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Ragan fought off teammate Carl Edwards in a two-lap shootout during the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway to get his second Nationwide win.
Believe it or not, there are still people out there who don’t really know who he is. While I was at Bristol for the Food City 250, I heard some people around me say "Who’s that? I’ve never heard of him. Is he a rookie?" after Ragan had won. How could he be so unknown? Maybe it is because he has yet to win a Cup race, and quite frankly, he isn’t mentioned very often during a race unless he has managed to crack the top ten or involved in a crash. Unfortunately, the latter of those two seems to be the more common reason he is mentioned.
2009 marked Ragan’s third full year in the Cup series and while it may not have been the breakout season Ragan had hoped for, he has realized where he and his team need to improve if they want to become competitive in 2010.
"I think what we need to work on the most is being more consistent." Ragan said during his segment on the Moby in the Morning radio show the Tuesday after the Martinsville race in October.
While Ragan had three back-to-back 33rd place finishes in September, I don’t think that is the type of consistency he is looking for.
Consistency does pay off in the long run as far as being competitive and getting wins. Despite the fact that Ragan’s first Cup win continues to elude him, he has shown signs of progress—even though the stats say otherwise. Whether it was getting caught up in wrecks, mechanical failures, or miscues on pit road, some things caused Ragan to finish some races worse than he could have in the 2009 season. He could have gotten a couple more top-tens or possibly a couple top-fives if things had worked out in his favor, but throughout the season he seemed to have a black cloud following him.
While the Roush Fenway Racing organization has a lot of work to do if they want to be competitive next season, the one Roush driver I see making the biggest stride is Ragan. He is the only winless driver on the team. I know he wants to get that first Cup win, and in 2010 I think he’ll get it. Do I see Ragan making the Chase in 2010? I’d love to see that happen, but I honestly don’t see it happening within the next year. Of course, I wouldn’t mind him proving me wrong though.
I could speculate for days over what 2010 may hold in store for Ragan, but the one thing I am sure of is he has a lot of work to do if he is to have any chances of proving he is as good as I believe he is. I believe one day he will become a championship contender and one day, a champion.
Note: I originally intended for this to be an analytical article, but my inner fan took over and it became a mixture of analysis and opinion.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and may not reflect those of the site or its other contributors.