2011 NASCAR Preview: The Top 30 Driver Countdown
2011 Driver Countdown
No. 6 UPS Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
Crew Chief: Drew Blickensderfer
Years with current team: 6
Under contract through: 2011
Best points finish: 13th (2008)
Hometown: Unadilla, Ga.
Born: December 24, 1985
No offense meant to David Ragan, but he seems to have things a little bit backwards. Drivers are supposed to have a sophomore slump, then take off and improve for good. But for Ragan, a once-promising career has wound up mired in mediocrity, leaving the driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford with a 2011 ultimatum: Shape up or ship out.
A promising 2008 season — when he scored six top-5 finishes, 14 top 10s and a Chase near-miss of 13th in points — seems like a century ago. In the two seasons since, the 25-year-old has a combined five top-10 finishes compared to six DNFs in 72 starts since landing the money and marketing of one of the sport’s biggest sponsors. What’s happening here? Did Ragan suddenly forget how to drive, or does Roush’s internal engineering for the No. 6 car leave much to be desired?
Turns out it’s both — plus, bad chemistry at the crew chief position that killed confidence. Donnie Wingo took the helm from Jimmy Fennig for 2010 but only lasted until September, when Drew Blickensderfer became the latest man to hold the job starting at Dover. Ragan scored his third and final top 10 of the year with his new crew chief at Texas in early November, but no real change in performance was apparent after the move.
“We just didn’t have luck on our side,” Ragan said of this latest year to forget. “Nevertheless, looks like a good offseason for us.”
Sounds like an optimistic view in the face of a cold, uncertain reality. Bad luck can be the explanation for some of the poor runs, but two seasons’ worth? It’s obvious something else is going on here, whether it’s a driver who wasn’t as good as advertised or perhaps an organization stretched a bit too thin to make sure all four teams run evenly. Whatever the case, something has to change for the No. 6 — and fast. Insiders say owner Jack Roush had already considered releasing Ragan last summer, but couldn’t because of contractual obligations that kept him as the permanent driver for UPS. He’ll have no such restrictions this November, as that deal runs out at the end of this season; it means this once-developmental driver has to be looking over his shoulder at rising talents Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Roush Fenway Racing’s Nationwide program.
You can bet that if the No. 6 can’t deliver on results this year, the driver, the sponsor, or both won’t be delivered back to RFR for 2012.
What The Competition Is Saying
Thoughts from anonymous garage-area owners, crew chiefs and team members.
Ragan’s career is stalled — in reverse even — and Jack Roush isn’t particularly known for his patience. “In many ways, I think he’s come a long way,” says a crew chief. “He’s starting to assert himself on the track, but where he goes from here is anybody’s guess. When all the other Roush Fenway cars started moving up and getting more competitive, he couldn’t make much of a move.”
Another crew chief disagrees: “He’s gone backwards. When he first got to Cup, he was in over his head. Then he learned how to stay out of trouble. Now he’s got some pressure on him, and he’s in over his head again.” Another says, “I’d bet he’d be out by season’s end, if not before. My driver can’t stand racing with Ragan.”
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 3
Laps Led: 13
Laps Completed: 10,541
Lead Lap Finishes: 21
Bonus Points: 20
Races Led: 4
Average Start: 22.5
Average Finish: 21.3
After First 26 Races: 25th
Final Points Standind: 24th
Driver Rating: 66.2 (25th)