It took David Ragan 163 races, lots of torn up race cars, criticism and mistakes before he finally won his first career race. When he did it came at one of NASCAR’s most historic racetracks: Daytona International Speedway on Fourth of July weekend.
[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”254″][/media-credit]To some, Ragan was never going to get this far. After finishing 13th in points in 2008, just his second full season, things went downhill fast for the Georgia driver. The man handpicked to replace Mark Martin was having a tough go in the Sprint Cup Series, being called a dart without feathers and faced other such criticisms.
And while others might have sent him home, team owner Jack Roush never even thought about it.
“To have Jack’s support behind our team is very, very important,” said Ragan on Tuesday. “Without it, we couldn’t go and do our jobs. From day one when Jack gave me an opportunity that I probably didn’t deserve being a young kid, not having a full Nationwide Series or not having a full Truck Series [season] underneath my belt and being promoted to the No. 6 car in 2007.”
Instead of looking for replacements, Roush stuck by Ragan. Repeatedly saying that he believes in him and that he was going to stick with him. He put Ragan with strong team members that played a great supporting cast. Yet, the growing pains continued but according to Ragan his confidence and ability in making the right decisions blossomed.
It helped that Roush was always there, either at the shop or at the track, always in Ragan’s ear. Support unwavering, Ragan pushed forward, the results just needed to start showing.
“We had a lot of hard conversations after bad weekends and good conversations after good weekends,” said Ragan of Roush.
The 2009 season was the worst of Ragan’s career. He finished 27th in points with only two top 10 finishes. But he did score his first career Nationwide Series win at Talladega. Something that might not have ever come either but just like he’s done with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his other young drivers, Roush never gave up on them.
“It was probably three or four years ago, my rookie year in 2006, where I was running the Truck Series some, my first year in a Nationwide car and we talked about it: Was my Nationwide car affecting my Cup performance” said Ragan of behind the scenes discussions.
Drivers running in both series have always been a discussion around the sport. Not only in the sense of championship eligibility but about focus on the Sprint Cup side. Roush made the decision to keep Ragan in both cars. Citing that his lack of experience and the much needed seat time. Telling Ragan they were going to keep working.
“He saw I had a lot of driving force behind me to go out and do a good job,” said Ragan. “A lot of pressure I put on myself. So I always had a lot of confidence that I was the guy and that I needed to show progression.”
Progression though still wasn’t made in 2010 as Ragan finished 24th in points with numbers similar to those in 2009. On the NNS side he saw his team owner bench Stenhouse Jr. as he too was having a hard time and was tearing up more cars than he was finishing with.
As Stenhouse Jr. was taken out of the car, it never crossed Ragan’s mind that Roush might do the same to him. As Ragan says while he did tear stuff up and make bad decisions there were a few years were Roush-Fenway Racing as a whole was just slow. When you’re running that badly there aren’t opportunities to destroy equipment, the focus was on trying to turn things around.
Now heading into New Hampshire and the 19th race of the 2011 season Ragan is rewarding Roush’s patience and belief in him. He’s competitive and fast, winning poles and finally a race. He sits 15th in points but does have a chance at the Chase, thanks in part to NASCAR’s new wildcard format.
It’s been a long, hard road for Ragan to even think about a chance to compete for a championship. Had it not been for a team owner who has given all of his drivers a chance and isn’t afraid to make team changes, it might have all been a dream for Ragan. Now, instead of fighting for a job or to prove himself, Regan is perfectly comfortable fighting for the finishes he deserves.
And he’ll do so under the watchful eye of Jack Roush.