If David Ragan is going to lose his ride in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, he is going out with a bang. Ragan has notoriously struggled since 2008, meanwhile, his teammates Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth remained somewhat competitive while the Roush cars were not handling up to par.
Following a solid 2008 campaign in which Ragan nearly qualified for the Chase for the Championship, he seemed to be a can’t-miss star following in the footsteps of previous drivers developed within the Roush organization. UPS signed a lucrative deal to sponsor the young driver. However, Ragan flopped big time in 2009, and things did not improve much in 2010.
Many felt as if Jack Roush made a mistake by allowing Jamie McMurray to exit the doors instead of Ragan. Nevertheless, Roush has remained patient with Ragan. Now, entering his fifth season in Sprint Cup competition, the heat is on for Ragan. This is a make or break year, when 2009 and 2010 should have been make or break years. I bet Scott Speed wishes Red Bull officials would have been as patient with him as Roush has with Ragan.
Anyway, with UPS in the final year of their current contract, Ragan is not only racing for his job, but he is racing to either attract a new sponsor, or keep the UPS decals on the No. 6.
Ragan began feeling the pressure at Daytona, when he botched a chance to win by switching lanes too quickly. Trevor Bayne, one of Roush’s developmental drivers, became the hero. Immediately, many felt as if Bayne would be the driver to replace Ragan.
Bayne has struggled to maintain the momentum he built in February, but the pressure remained for Ragan. Nationwide Series driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr is on the brink of winning. The kid is making the most out of a ride that he nearly lost a year ago. In addition, Stenhouse is developing in the Nationwide Series, whereas Ragan was thrown into a Cup ride before he ran a full Nationwide season.
Free agents Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya have yet to re-sign with their current teams, and could likely land on Roush’s radar, especially if Edwards chooses to leave.
Ragan seems to be responding to the pressure rather well, as he placed a fourth place finish at Richmond on Saturday night. It was his third top ten finish of the season, his first top five. While his stats are not mind-blowing, the performance is miles ahead of where it was in 2009 and 2010.
Despite the improvement, Ragan is fully aware of the pressure that surrounds him.
“I’m not blind to the fact that no one’s career in NASCAR is set. It’s all based on performance unless you have a millionaire for a dad and can write your own check…I feel like I’ve had pressure on me from Day 1 from when I was a rookie in (2007) and driving the 6 car,” he said.
A fourth place finish at Richmond will not save his career, but it could be the start of a momentum-builder that could keep Ragan’s ride secure, at least until the end of his contract.