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NASCAR Season Preview: David Ragan

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports

Born: December 24, 1985

Home: Unadilla, Georgia

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Ragan finally broke through into the win column in 2011, taking the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. He had his best statistical season since nearly making the Chase in 2008, scoring eight top 10s. He scored fourth place finishes in both Richmond races and added a second place in the Coca-Cola 600 as well.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Still the fourth rung on the Roush Fenway Racing ladder, Ragan could only muster a 23rd place finish in points. Even with the win, that wasn’t enough to keep UPS from shifting its money from Ragan to teammate Carl Edwards in 2012, putting him out of a job with Ford’s top team. Ragan also threw away the Daytona 500 by jumping a late restart, effectively handing the win to drafting partner Trevor Bayne.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The money (and patience) at Roush Fenway Racing finally ran out for Ragan in 2011, after three consecutive points finishes outside of the top 20 led to his dismissal at the end of the season. He managed to stay within the Ford family for 2012 by landing a ride with Front Row Motorsports, where he will retain Roush-Yates power and serve as the team’s lead driver alongside David Gilliland. However, he had been the lead candidate to replace Kurt Busch in Penske Racing’s #22 car, until A.J. Allmendinger quietly put together the deal himself.

This means that instead of joining a Chase-caliber team in 2012, Ragan will step backwards, and his best career opportunities may now be since past. His best shot at redeeming his career will be to take another big win or two in 2012. It’s altogether possible; Front Row did manage to finish third in last year’s Daytona 500 with Gilliland, and Ragan managed to keep himself near the front in big races all season. The other possibility is for Ragan to work on his consistency, helping Front Row continue its trend of marginal improvements in each of the past few years. But a points finish comparable to last year’s effort may be optimistic for Ragan.

– Chris Leone

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