By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
David Ragan may not have won any races in 2018, and he scored just one top-10 finish through 36 races, but he did have his most consistent season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since 2011.
Ragan, 32, had a rough start to the 2018 campaign as he was involved in a crash right around the mid-way point of the season-opening Daytona 500. For the driver who is known as a restrictor plate ace, that is not how he wanted things to get kicked off.
However, Ragan came back at Atlanta and the whole West Coast Swing with a decent amount of speed in his No. 38 Ford Fusion (He finished 23rd at Atlanta and Las Vegas followed by 22nd at Phoenix and 25th at Fontana).
A couple of races later, at Bristol Ragan really opened some eyeballs. He started 23rd, and struggled through the majority of the race, however with the help of two separate free passes during the day, Ragan found himself on the lead lap in the late portions of the Food City 500. Ragan would hold on to the lead lap for a solid 12th-place finish.
Two races later, Ragan had his best finish of the season at Talladega Superspeedway in the GEICO 500. The Georgia native started from 12th and had a solid race all day long. Despite being busted with a speeding penalty during the first stage of the race, the driver bounced back to score a sixth-place effort in Stage 2.
And although Ragan didn’t lead any laps on the day, he was in sixth-place when the checkered flag was displayed. Ragan credited a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing and help from a familiar face from his RFR tenure.
“We had a fast car all weeknd. We qualified 12th and if it wasn’t for my speeding penalty early I think we could have run in the top-15 all day,” Ragan said. “Kudos to the Front Row Motorsports guys for assembling this car and the team at the shop and the engine shop and even Roush Fenway Racing who put a lot of effort in. Special thanks to Jimmy Fennig for helping us on this car.”
Ragan and crew chief Seth Barbour were officially in full-stride and the combination would continue to knock out solid finishes throughout the rest of the season. Ragan was 13th at Kansas in May, 16th at Pocono in June, and 15th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona in July.
Ragan would rack up nine more top-20 finishes over the final half of the season. The No. 38 team’s efforts were rewarded with a 25th-place finish in the year end Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship standings.
Ragan’s championship ranking is the second-highest ever for a Front Row Motorsports driver, second only to Chris Buescher’s 16th-place finish in 2016. That season, Buescher won a weather-shortened race at Pocono to secure a berth in the Playoffs.
Ragan’s final average finish (22.9) was his best personal effort since 2011 (19.2), and the average finish is actually a new team record at Front Row Motorsports. Obviously, there is a lot to be proud of for Ragan, Barbour and Front Row Motorsports after the 2018 season, but what will 2019 hold?
The team will be swapping to a new body for the 2019 season as Ford will change from the Fusion to the Mustang. That being said, you would expect some early season growing pains. But once Ragan and Barbour settle in they should be in prime position to pick up where they left off in 2018.
A tweet from OffAxisPaint (who paint helmets for Ragan) revealed that Shriner’s Hospitals will be back for another season on the No. 38, and chances are there are very few changes to the team’s sponsorship package. The team, which will grow to a three-car effort after purchasing a charter and assets from the now defunct BK Racing, has been very good at making a developing relationships with their sponsors for years.
Expect Ragan to make another run at besting his own record for being the most consistent driver in the history of Front Row Motorsports in 2019. If luck works out, he may just land in victory lane at Daytona or Talladega again (both of Ragan’s Cup Series wins came at Daytona and Talladega).