It’s fitting that David Ragan announced the end to his full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career at the site of his last Xfinity Series triumph.
Way back when, in 2009, Ragan was attempting to prove he deserved to stay with Roush Fenway Racing. Two years prior, he was tapped as Mark Martin’s replacement in car No. 6. But the results weren’t coming in.
Splashing in a half-season of Xfinity Series racing rather than the full slate (he ran full time in both series in 2007-08), Roush believed, would help its young driver. It certainly did, giving Ragan the confidence he needed to succeed.
Unfortunately for him, that success came too late for Roush. He didn’t win at the Cup level until 2011, (though he had an exceptional sophomore season in 2008, recreating images of Martin’s success in the car by tallying six top fives and 14 top 10s).
In the end, Ragan was rushed to NASCAR’s premier level too quickly. He came to the Cup Series with only 29 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races under his belt, seven Xfinity contests and a pair of Cup starts in 2006, both of which were less than spectacular. Yet he was chosen to be Martin’s heir apparent.
2008 was good, of course. And then, from 2009-11, Roush inked UPS as Ragan’s lead sponsor. It was a huge deal for Ragan, who was coming off that great campaign. But the success from 2008 didn’t carry over. He struggled mightily in 2009 and 2010, earning zero top fives and just five top 10s.
By the time 2011 came around, it was obvious he wouldn’t re-sign with Roush. But he had a solid year, showing once again he could be a respectable driver.
Ragan’s first Cup win at Daytona International Speedway then came in July 2011 — impressive, but not good enough to keep him in the ride.
When Ragan took over the helm at Front Row Motorsports, expectations were low. No one knew what he would do. He would go on to become one of NASCAR’s best superspeedway racers of the modern era. Few can forget his unpredictable triumph with FRM in 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway, showing the world that he deserved a shot.
Ever since, he’s been given a handful of opportunities in top equipment, such as chances with Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing in 2015. It could’ve rejuvenated a once vibrant career. Instead, he faltered and ended up back with FRM, which he’s been with since.
His retirement marks the end of an era. Once 2019 ends, zero drivers from Roush’s famed Gong Show/Driver X will be racing in the Cup Series. Matt McCall, Kurt Busch’s crew chief at Chip Ganassi Racing, is the only one to have a top job with a premier team. Justin Allgaier, who also appeared on the show, is the last driver from Roush’s Gong Show to compete full time in any NASCAR division.
With Ragan’s retirement ends that era for Roush. The team no longer has a developmental program. It doesn’t have a pool of drivers from which to choose. If Roush wants a new pilot, he’s more likely to pick a veteran, like Ryan Newman, rather than a fresh face, such as Ragan in 2007.
So as Ragan hangs up his helmet, it’s important to note that no longer do teams sign drivers solely based on talent, like Roush did in 2005. The Cat in the Hat saw something special in Ragan, which created a nice, 13-year career as a full-time racer.
Roush took a chance on Ragan, and his career will end as the sport sees a vicious change, one that fails to reward those with raw speed and a deep appreciation for others.