Last year Jack Roush stated he believed in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and that was going to stick with him. It paid off as the results have started to show and have continued early into the 2011 Nationwide Series. Now another Roush driver, David Ragan, is experiencing that same fortune in the Sprint Cup Series.
[media-credit name=”Greg Arthur” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]The Georgia driver, who has struggled to be a contender since his rookie season where he finished 13th in points, won’t be cut loose anytime soon. Roush likes what he sees and believes Ragan can and will become a winner. After 12 races in 2011, it appears Ragan’s heading in the right direction with his No. 6 UPS team after another solid performance on Sunday night in Charlotte.
After 600 long miles, which would end up coming down to fuel strategy, Ragan came home with a runner-up finish, which he knows he was lucky to have received. Believing he had a top-four car and escaping the melee on the backstretch with two laps to go, Ragan was one of the few drivers who didn’t want to see the caution flag come out.
“When you’ve got four fresh tires and you’re full of fuel, you can be aggressive on those restarts and just very lucky to get through Turn 1 without getting wrecked,” said Ragan. “I don’t know which one of the Red Bull cars was on the outside, but he ran out [of fuel] getting into [turn] 1, it was just barely enough room.”
The right front fender on the No. 6 ended up bent in after final restart when as Ragan said cars started running out of fuel and blocked the track. According to Ragan the fender wouldn’t have made it very far if the race continued any further than it did. Instead, being in the right place at the right time resulted in not only his best finish of the season but the best of his career.
“We had a strong car all day,” Ragan said. “Got the finish that we deserved, but we just went about doing it the hard way.”
Ragan did indeed have a strong car. Along with his Roush-Fenway Racing teammates he spent much of the night up in the front and led seven laps. His Ford Fusion stayed out of trouble and was around near the end of the race and nearly won at Charlotte in a race that would have counted. Last Saturday night, Ragan blistered the track in Sprint Showdown qualifying to win the pole then backed it up by winning the race.
The win put the team into the Sprint All-Star race where he finished eighth. While the events didn’t count for points it counted in the performance column. There’s no denying that Ragan has come a long way and his turnaround has caught earned attention, so much so that many in the sport believe he could be NASCAR’s next new winner.
“I feel great about the rest of the season,” Ragan said Sunday night. “We’ve just been inconsistent. We’ve had some fast cars. We’ve run well. Certainly this race is a great race. It’s a great momentum builder, but if we go to Kansas and blow up and finish last and then we go to the next race and wreck and finish 30th, we’re going to be back where we’re at.”
Ragan’s inconsistencies landed him 21st entering the Coca-Cola 600. Yet, he could have started the year in victory lane in another big race, the Daytona 500. Had it not been for a changing lanes violation on the final restart, there’s only speculation of what could have been.
Since then he’s done his best to show his strong practice sessions and qualifying efforts are no fluke. He now has four top finishes and has moved to 18th in points, just 40 markers out of the top-10. He has one pole under his belt and respectable finishes at some of the toughest tracks on the circuit. He knows that it’s just a start.
“We’ve got to put some finishes together,” said Ragan. “We’ve got to string some top 5s and top 10s week after week after week, and that’s what’s going to turn our season around. This was a great race, very proud of our team, and hopefully we moved up a few spots in points and gained some momentum.
But we’ve got to let it do its thing from here on out. We just can’t look back at this one and hope this is going to carry us. We’ve got to go get it done next week and the following.”