What a difference a year has made for 22-year-old Ragan

Updated: August 24, 2008, 11:58 PM ET

Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 Ford, races with Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota on Sunday at Michigan. Ragan tied his career best, finishing third, one spot behind Busch.

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- To get attention these days, David Ragan doesn't need the black-and-white police car -- an exact duplicate of the one on "The Andy Griffith Show" -- or the recently purchased fire truck that he drives around the Charlotte, N.C., area.

He's doing plenty on the track to gain attention.

The second-year driver of Roush Fenway Racing finished third in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway to move within 26 points of the 12th and final spot for the championship chase.

It was his fourth top-10 in the past six events, making him a serious threat for the playoff with three races left before the field is set.

"He's matured more than I could have imagined this year for his age," team owner Jack Roush said of his 22-year-old driver.

Roush went so far as to say his rising star is further along in his career than race winner Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle or any of his drivers were at the same age.

"We're learning from David, and when we get it figured out we'll be able to do for him what he needs to have done, the same as we've tried to do for everybody else," Roush said after collecting his 11th Cup win at Michigan.

What Roush has done so far isn't bad. Ragan, who is tied with Clint Bowyer at 13th, is only 82 points away from four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who is in ninth place.

Ragan has stayed in contention by driving more under control than he did a year ago when he had four DNFs because of crashes and had 12 finishes of 30th or worse.

His only finishes outside the top 30 this season were a 42nd at Daytona in the opener and a 40th at New Hampshire.

He's on such a roll that he's in the running for UPS to sponsor him on the No. 6 Ford next season.

"The fate of David Ragan as it relates to the Chase will be based on whether he's involved in a wreck at a bad time or whether we break a part, which ends up being my fault," Roush said.

Roush officials have been saying all season that Ragan is close to getting his first win. He never was closer than Sunday, when he stayed out to take the lead after the leaders pitted for tires with 20 laps remaining.

He didn't keep the lead long -- he was passed by Kyle Busch before he could get through the second turn on the Lap 183 restart. But he maintained his poise for a third-place finish that tied the career best he had at Richmond last year.

"It definitely would have been great to win, but you don't want to take an unnecessary risk and take out a top-5 finish and finish 20th or something," Ragan said. "[Busch] and [Edwards] were just a little better than us, and after we didn't pit on that last run we were kind of going to be sitting ducks depending on how the cautions worked out.

"I just drove as hard as I could and tried not to make any mistakes."

That will be key again this week at Bristol, where Ragan crashed a year ago and finished 41st. He showed marked improvement in the first Bristol race this season and finished 21st.

The following two tracks, California and Richmond, set up well for the Unadilla, Ga., native. In three California starts, he has finished no worse than 16th. His worst finish in three Richmond starts is 20th.

"We always knew we could run this way if we just went a whole weekend without making many mistakes," Ragan said. "We always seem to have fast cars and good speed, but maybe myself or the pit crew or somebody would make a mistake and we'd pay for it when the checkered flag fell."

-- David Newton

Nationwide Series: Chassis dyno fracas obscures tightening points race

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- OK, so the big news didn't happen during Saturday's Nationwide Series race, but in the hours after the Carfax 250 had concluded. It took place in the garage, as the cars were awaiting testing on the chassis dyno.

The news, of course, is that Joe Gibbs Racing was attempting to manipulate the test results by trying to ensure that the throttles on the cars of Tony Stewart and Joey Logano couldn't be fully engaged while on the dyno. Unfortunately for JGR, the plan didn't work.

What comes next will play out over the course of this week. NASCAR is set to announce its 2009 schedules on Tuesday, so whether it will announce penalties against JGR the same day is uncertain. The penalties likely will greatly cut into the No. 20 team's lead in the owner's standings, but the bigger question is whether this round of dyno tests will lead to any additional rule changes.

And the lobbying had already begun after the race, with runner-up Brian Vickers saying he couldn't catch Carl Edwards due to the late-July rule change that was designed to cut Toyota's horsepower. To the contrary, Chevrolet owner Richard Childress said on Sunday that he believed the tests showed the Toyotas still had 14 more horsepower than the other manufacturers.

In his postrace interview, but before the attempted chicanery of the chassis dyno was caught, Edwards was asked how he thought the rules change impacted the race.

"Well, it kept [the Toyotas] from having a giant advantage the whole day like they've had for the first half of the year," Edwards said. "To me, I like the change that they made. I think it leveled the playing field. I didn't feel like when I was racing with Tony or Brian that one of us had a big advantage.

"I thought it was pretty even, so we work really hard on our cars just like they do. We've worked with a little bit of a deficit in the engine department, and I'm just happy with the change that NASCAR made and I think the racing you saw today and the parity out there was a result of that."

Whatever happens with the horsepower, the fact remains that the three drivers in championship contention with 10 races to go aren't in Toyotas. Clint Bowyer leads the way in Richard Childress Racing's Chevy, while Brad Keselowski (third place) drives a Chevy for JR Motorsports. Edwards, the defending champion in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, took a step toward closing the gap with his third win of the season.

Edwards is 113 points back, while Keselowski's 11th-place run cost him four points to Bowyer, who finished 10th after getting into David Reutimann late in the race. Keselowski is now 132 points back.

The good news for Bowyer is that even while he's not showing championship form, the schedule is dwindling quicker than his lead. The beating and banging that accompanies a race at Bristol Motor Speedway will make Friday night's Food City 250 a bit of a wild card, but Bowyer enters with some breathing room.

And depending on how severely NASCAR penalizes JGR's Nos. 18 and 20 teams between now and then, he might even find himself in contention for the owner's championship.

-- Mark Ashenfelter

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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup

Carl Edwards

Edwards

  • Carl Edwards won Sunday's 3M Performance 400 presented by Bondo at Michigan International Speedway. He won from the 27th-place starting position, only the second race in Michigan history to be won from lower than 25th. Edwards also finished first in the Nationwide Series Carfax 250 on Saturday, only the second Nationwide/Cup sweep in 2008. Kyle Busch swept at Chicagoland. It was only the second weekend sweep at Michigan; Mark Martin swept in 1993. Edwards scored his 12th Cup victory in 144 career races. He remains second in the points standings, trailing leader Busch by 222 points.
  • Edwards has scored five victories in 2008, winning at California, Las Vegas, Texas, the second Pocono race and second Michigan race. Edwards' last victory came at Pocono, three races ago. He scored his second victory in nine races at Michigan. Edwards led 84 of the 200 laps raced, including the final 18. That was the most led by any driver in the race.
  • Ford scored its fifth victory in 2008, all by Edwards. Toyota has nine wins, Chevrolet has five, while Dodge has four.
  • Roush Fenway Racing has scored 19 wins at Michigan: 11 in Sprint Cup, four in Nationwide and four in Craftsman Truck.
  • All five Roush Fenway cars finished in the top 10. The team has won six of the past 12 races at Michigan.
  • Busch finished second, scoring his 14th top-5 finish in 23 races this season, most among all drivers.
  • David Ragan finished third. He tied his career-best finish set at Richmond last fall.
  • Ragan and Clint Bowyer are tied in 13th, each with 2,709 points and just 26 points behind 12th-place Denny Hamlin with three races remaining in the Race to the Chase.
  • Marcos Ambrose, who finished third a week ago at Watkins Glen, had an engine failure in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford on Lap 18, spreading oil on the track. He finished 43rd.
  • Lap 90 saw Reed Sorenson and Chase contenders Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart running four-wide in Turn 4, with Gordon and Johnson making contact. Johnson pitted on Lap 91 with a cut tire/fender rub, and Gordon suffered a flat on Lap 96; he hit the wall, bringing out the third caution of the race on Lap 98. Gordon had serious damage, spending 61 laps behind the wall for repairs. He returned briefly before taking the car behind the wall for his fourth DNF of the season and a 42nd-place finish.
  • Gordon dropped from sixth to ninth in points, just 82 points ahead of 13th-place Ragan and Bowyer.
  • Chase contender Kasey Kahne went to the garage on Lap 132 with his car losing power. Kahne dropped from 8th to 11th in the standings.
  • A late race caution on Lap 180 of a scheduled 200 (for debris) had the field pit except for Ragan and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Edwards beat Busch out of the pits. On the restart, Earnhardt got into the backstretch wall.
  • Chase contender Denny Hamlin was running 13th on Lap 194 when his engine failed. Hamlin dropped from ninth to 12th in the standings, just 26 points ahead of Bowyer and Ragan (who are tied for 13th).
  • The race featured 18 lead changes among nine drivers. It had seven cautions for 27 laps.

Nationwide

Carl Edwards

Edwards

  • Carl Edwards won the Carfax 250 at Michigan International Speedway, scoring his 16th series victory in his 131st career start. Edwards became the 13th different winner in the 17 races at Michigan. He led five times for 71 laps in the 125-lap race, including the final 33. Edwards dominated the first 32 laps as leader of the race from his pole position before Brian Vickers took the lead on lap 33. Vickers would lead 17 laps in the race and finished second.
  • Edwards won from the pole position. The last driver to win from the pole at Michigan was Jeff Burton in 1998 (driving for Jack Roush).
  • Edwards gave Roush Fenway Racing its fourth series victory at Michigan, the most of all car owners.
  • Ford posted its fifth win of the 2008 season and its first in the past seven races at Michigan. Toyota has 15 wins, Chevy has five, while Dodge has yet to win in 2008.
  • Vickers has scored top-10 finishes in five of the eight series races that he has competed in this season.
  • Joey Logano finished seventh, posting his seventh top-10 finish in his nine career series starts.
  • David Ragan (finished 36th) ended a streak of 10 straight top-15 finishes, a streak that began at Nashville in June. Ragan spun his car on Lap 52, inflicting serious damage to both the front and rear of the car. He dropped from fifth to sixth in points.
  • The race featured six cautions for 21 laps.
  • The race featured 10 lead changes among four drivers.
  • The top-10 consisted of four Toyotas, three Fords and three Chevrolets.
  • The highest-finishing Dodge was Dario Franchitti in 13th.
  • Points leader Clint Bowyer finished 10th. His 113-point lead over second-place driver Carl Edwards is the smallest since Race 13 at Lowe's Motor Speedway when Bowyer led by just 67 points.
  • Brad Keselowski finished 11th and dropped from second to third in the points. Keselowski trails Bowyer by 132 points.
  • The first lap was not completed before Steven Wallace and Mark Green were involved in an accident on the backstretch. Green was able to continue while Wallace suffered front-end damage and finished 38th.

-- Racing Resources