[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”226″][/media-credit]At Daytona in February, Trevor Bayne, barely out of his teens won NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500. As the circuit moved back there just last night, it was another surprise winner, David Ragan. Or was it such a big surprise?
The big money was on Dale, Jr. this weekend. We’ve been told by every media outlet and anyone who follows this series that Junior was going to win soon. His record at Daytona and Talladega bear this out. Nowhere is Junior better than at the restrictor plate races. Call it inherited from the family. Yet, I didn’t feel that way. Somehow, it always seems to be a surprise. Oh, I could go into details of all the surprises at those two tracks, but you all know that . Many of us saw David Ragan’s rise from bumbling kid to someone who could drive a racecar. I’ll still remember that debut at Martinsville when he hit everything but the pace car. Jack Roush had faith in him, though, and gave his a primo ride in the fabled No. 6. That was Jack’s first car he seriously ran in the Cup series and the former ride of Mark Martin, Roush’s most successful driver.
Many thought Roush was crazy. The skinny kid from Georgia and the son of Ken Ragan, just didn’t have it. The statistics proved it out. He had only won one Nationwide Series race and had never won a Cup race. He nearly won the Daytona 500 this year, but jumping the start proved to be his downfall and the guy who was pushing him in that weird two-car tandem nonsense went on to win.
UPS is a big sponsor in this series and the talk was Ragan was in trouble. He just hadn’t done the job and UPS was going to demand another driver for 2012 if they were to stay with Roush-Fenway. The pressure was on and Ragan knew it. After the debacle that was the Daytona 500, he looked forward to this race more than any other. He had to win.
There is an opinion that what happens at Daytona and Talladega has little to do with the worth of a driver. Many consider restrictor plate racing a freak of nature in NASCAR terms. Drivers have won here that have won nowhere else in cars that can’t compete in “normal” races. Since the 1987 regulation that required restrictor plates, we’ve seen drivers like Derrike Cope, john Andretti, Michael Waltrip, and Jamie McMurray win. Not that this is a bad list, but they were all surprises. In fact, may drivers have lived on wins at Daytona and Talladega. All four of his victories have been at those two race tracks. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has won 18 times, but 7 of those have come at Daytona and Talladega. Some drivers and teams are just better at those races, but the record shows that a large number of long-time stars have won, not only at the restrictor plates tracks, but lots of other places, too.
So, what does this all mean? Should David Ragan now be considered as a driver who has “made it’ and continue a staple of the Roush-Fenway stable? I do not know. I do know that RFR is in frantic negotiations with Carlo Edwards and Matt Kenseth’s sponsor just announced they were not coming back. Couple that with rising drivers like Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne and Ragan’s mid=pack finishes most everywhere else, and his job security is less than optimistic. Time will tell, but they can’t take the thrill of a Daytona win away from him. Just like Trevor Bayne, he is king for a day, but will it last?