As Jimmie Johnson chases his third consecutive championship and season winds down, everyone wants to nominate and declare the 2008 Driver of the Year.
To many, the nominees are Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
Edwards sits second in points and has eight wins this season and Kyle Busch dominated the regular season, causing many to inscribe his name on the Cup title before his meltdown in the Chase.
But to Tony Stewart and maybe many more, the 2008 Driver of the Year is not a big name. He isn’t competing for the championship and he hasn’t even won his first race yet.
That’s right; the 2008 Driver of the Year is David Ragan.
“I would pick David Ragan,” Stewart said. “That kid has impressed me so much from where he started in this series to where he is at the end of the year this year.”
Last year Ragan received unwanted attention after Stewart and other veterans said he was always in the way and caused more harm than good.
He tore up race cars; he wrecked all by himself and never even came close to finishing in the top 10. Even more ironic was the fact that he was sponsored by AAA and yet he led the series in wrecks.
Then this year he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig found the magic. He started getting praise from the people who so easily and quickly criticized him last year. He started competing not just for top ten, but for wins, and he narrowly missed this year’s Chase for the Championship.
He sits thirteenth in points just below the cut and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks into the win column. But the biggest boost probably came when UPS decided to leave Michael Waltrip Racing to sponsor Ragan in 2009, proof that he was now getting everyone’s attention for all the right reasons.
"When we say he 'gets it' now, he kind of gets the etiquette. ...You can just see his confidence now. When he started, he was a dart without feathers. ...He was somebody that you saw him and you were coming to lap him, you were like, 'Oh man, I have to deal with this guy again.'"
Last year he had just three top ten finishes and four DNFs. This year he has thirteen top tens and only two DNFs.
"Now when you see him, you're like, 'this kid gets it ... In a two-year span, he went from a guy that none of us really thought would make it to a guy that in my opinion is solidified in here for quite some time. I think he'll be here for 10 years or more now,” Stewart finished.
Ragan won’t win the championship and he can’t finish higher than thirteenth in points, where he sits right now, but he’s already won the respect of his peers and the men that he’s racing. That in itself is a major accomplishment since they’re the guys he’ll be around week in and week out.
So, don’t feel bad for Ragan about missing the Chase, we’re soon going to see him in victory lane and who knows, maybe in a year or two, we’ll be saying he’s winning too much.
"I've still got some things to learn and I feel like I've still got some more progress to make to be a championship contender. But we're sitting here [13th in the standings] in some pretty good company and we haven't gotten here by just a fluke and being lucky—we've been good a lot of weeks,” Ragan said.
"The Chase is a great thing in the sport and every team elevates itself for the Chase. It's a great thing to be in and we feel like we've put a little bit of pressure on ourselves to finish 13th and we're almost racing like we are in the Chase so next year it won't be a surprise and we'll know how to act once we get there."