NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: David Ragan

David Ragan

2010 Ride: No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2010 Primary Sponsor: UPS
2010 Owners: Jack Roush
2010 Crew Chiefs: Donnie Wingo (27 races), Drew Blickensderfer (nine races)
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 3 top 10s, 0 poles, 13 laps led, 24th in points

High Point: With zero wins or top-five finishes, finding a high point in Ragan’s season is tough. The logical answer is the fourth-year driver’s sixth-place run at Talladega Superspeedway in April, where he also led eight laps. A restrictor-plate ace, six of his 22 career top-10s have come either there or at the 2.5-mile oval down in Daytona. Two races later, Ragan also ran an impressive 14th at Darlington Raceway, a track where even the most seasoned veterans often find strife.

Low Point: After May’s Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington, Ragan and all of Roush Fenway Racing fell into the doldrums. Suffering from yet another engineering setback, all four RFR cars were off the mark and falling back in the standings. Ragan followed the Darlington race with Dover (24th), Charlotte (26th) and Pocono (24th) and then saw the wheels spiral off his No. 6 Ford at Michigan, a track he loves, in June. Ragan finished two laps down in 34th, the second-lowest car still running in the race at the checkered flag.

Summary: Ragan’s career may be a few bad turns away from a crossroads. After a breakout year in 2008, one that saw him fall just short of making the Chase, RFR signed mega-sponsor UPS to a multi-year deal and committed to seeing Ragan break the mold into superstardom. Instead, the last two years have been miserable for both Ragan and his team. While he has improved his ability to control the racecar, some of the driver’s problems likely have stemmed from an inability to gel with his crew chief and enable them to hit the perfect setup on the car. The result? Mediocre sub top-20 runs in most races, with 2010 no exception to that rule.

Ragan opened the season 16th in the Daytona 500 and then immediately posted sluggish finishes (23rd) at both Fontana and Las Vegas. In the next race at Atlanta, he sparked hope for his hometown crowd by driving from a 17th starting spot to inside the top 10 early before scraping the wall, cutting a tire, wrecking and finishing many laps down in 37th. Damage and multiple laps lost demoted Ragan to a 29th-place finish the following race at Bristol, and the season-long slump was on in earnest.

From Martinsville to Darlington, Ragan posted top-20 finishes in all but one race before reaching the aforementioned low point of his season, which included the abominable run at Michigan. That poor streak outside the top 20 continued until Ragan’s solid Chicagoland run of 12th in July.

After that race, Ragan clocked in similar types of finishes through the meat of the season, crossing the checkered flag most weeks in the 20s with an occasional top 15 sprinkled in. After finishing 22nd at New Hampshire in September, crew chief Drew Blickensderfer replaced Donnie Wingo atop the No. 6 pit box. It took a couple of weeks, but Ragan did seem to get a boost from the switch, running 10th at Charlotte and eighth at Phoenix. However, it’s important to note RFR’s fleet of four teams and the Richard Petty Motorsports group all picked up their performances across the board down the stretch.

Regardless of the reasons or the circumstances, Ragan and the No. 6 bunch simply could not string together consecutive good races. The top-10 and top-15 runs were so scattered, the team and driver could never establish any kind of momentum as an inconsistent performance left them floundering. While “momentum” is sometimes an intangible and over-hyped term, it is certainly something that Ragan and the UPS team need to pine hard for if 2011 is going to provide any kind of turnaround for RFR’s oldest car number.

2011 Outlook: Simple: make or break. Ragan and UPS both are in contract years with Roush Fenway Racing, so decision time on the fates of both will likely come before midway through this upcoming season. With other teams likely to make big pushes for UPS’ money and with Carl Edwards’s fellow RFR No. 99 team likely on the hunt for a sponsor to replace Aflac (who is also in the last year of its deal), Ragan is going to have to fight hard to keep both his ride and the funding for it together.

Rumors swirled throughout much of 2010 about UPS’s unhappiness with the performance of the No. 6 Ford and their decreased camera time. Ragan and Blickensderfer each have had brief spurts of success in their respective careers, but both need to take it to another level, and quickly before they get shut out of prime opportunities in the Sprint Cup Series.

Ragan faces more than just sponsor pressure to succeed. Jack Roush has been an ardent believer in him since the day he put him in the Truck Series almost five years ago and then surprisingly named the youngster as Mark Martin’s replacement. Through the lack of success and criticism that Ragan has received by some, Roush has always maintained that the driver needs time to grow and acclimate to the cars.

However, Ragan entered the Cup Series at 21 years old and now sits just days away from his 25th birthday (Christmas Eve), leaving his “young gun” label fading and Roush scurrying for a backup plan. With RFR’s newest prized prospect, Trevor Bayne, waiting in the wings in the Nationwide Series and proving his worth there, Roush’s patience clock with Ragan could be running out of batteries. One of the most congenial and appreciative people in the Cup garage, this driver may still have a limited time in those auspices if results do not improve early in 2011.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: D+
2008 Grade: B+
2009 Grade: D+
2010 Grade: C-

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