This time last week David Ragan was preparing for one of the biggest races of his career. His No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team was preparing for their Budweiser Duel in a race to try and make the 57th Daytona 500. Now as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series gets ready for the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ragan is yet again preparing for one of the biggest races of his career.
Ragan, a 29 year old driver from Unadilla, Georgia, will drive the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing replacing the injured Kyle Busch. It’s an opportunity Ragan’s been waiting for for a while.
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His career started during Jack Roush’s Driver X Competition, a reality tv show to help Roush Fenway Racing find the perfect driver. After landing a ride Ragan impressed team owner Jack Roush and driver Mark Martin enough to take over Martin’s No. 6 Ford prior to the 2007 season.
After a disappointing rookie season in 2007 in which Ragan finished 23rd in points everything seemed to come together for the young driver as he finished 13th in the point standings and narrowly missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2008.
He had a handshake deal with former team owner James Finch right after the season. It looked like Ragan had found a ride for the season. Then Ragan became a front-runner for the No. 22 Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing after the team fired driver Kurt Busch following his altercation with ESPN announcer Dr. Jerry Punch. Ragan told Phoenix Racing that he couldn’t commit to the ride because he was in talks with Penske Racing to get the No. 22.
Then things began to fall apart. Finch, who needed a driver after Ragan told him that he was no longer available, made a play for Busch. Busch and Finch agreed to a one year contract. Then Penske Racing announced they were going in a different direction and hired driver A.J. Allmendinger to drive the No. 22 car for 2012. It was a crushing blow. Ragan had been liked for two rides and passed up on both of them and his options appeared to be limited.
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Then in mid-January Ragan signed a contract to drive the 2012 season at Front Row Motorsports an organization not nearly as prominent as the two previous ones that were now out of Ragan’s grasps. He didn’t know it yet but that was the best decision of his career.
Ragan ran pretty good in the 2012 season for the organization helping them establish a nice solid base of points finishing 28th in the point standings. He followed that season up with a good start to the 2013 season and when the team headed to Talladega Superspeedway in April Ragan and his team pulled off the unthinkable. A late race surge saw the team weave their way through the field and Ragan was able to hold off Carl Edwards and teammate David Gilliland to get his second career victory. It was a great season for Ragan and the team.
The 2014 season saw a step backwards as the team struggled as Ragan finished 32nd in points. The season also saw a disappointment for Ragan as he was considered as a candidate to drive the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford for the 2015 season but was passed over for Sam Hornish Jr.
Now as Ragan enters a new phase of his career with Joe Gibbs Racing Ragan has to prove himself as a driver who has learned from his mistakes in the past. He is 29 years old so he still has a lot of racing in his career if he can prove himself as a valuable asset to his career. If he struggles it could mean the end of any speculation that Ragan will be considered for a top tier ride ever again.
Very few drivers get second opportunities in top notch equipment. Ragan has to make the most of this second chance or it may be his last.