November 13, 2019
Seth and Sutton Sharp
Underestimate. The dictionary lists the definition of this word as “to consider someone to be less capable or effective than is actually the case”.
Success in NASCAR is often quickly placed on wins and championships, since that is what most drivers are striving to achieve on a weekly basis. It is the pinnacle of stock-car racing. It is easy to overlook and undervalue any driver, especially in the current era of social media. Stats to sway others to think certain ways about statistics and moments are found more frequent than not. Unfortunately, most of these can be for the negative. If a driver does not consistently finish in the top-10, many will be quick to write them off as someone who doesn’t deserve a ride at the highest level of Motorsports. The missing piece to this thought process is that just to make it to the Cup Series for one race should be looked at as an accomplishment.
Many drivers work their entire lives, using every last penny to their name and working non-stop just to try to live out their dreams. To have an opportunity to run a full-season is something that hundreds of drivers have been able to claim they have achieved.
This weekend, the NASCAR community bids farewell to two veteran drivers, David Ragan and Paul Menard. Both drivers will be making their final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts, as a full-time driver. It is rather fitting that these two drivers hang up their helmets at the same time, as their careers share many parallels.
193 drivers have a Cup Series victory to their name, while only 70 can claim that they have at least one Cup and Xfinity Series victory in each Series. Ragan and Menard are two of those 70. While the two drivers may not have been championship contenders throughout their career, their success should not be ignored, rather it should be celebrated.
Drivers do not just stick around if they do not belong in the Cup Series. Despite the costs, even the most heavily funded opportunities will fade away over time when no success is found. This was not the case for either of these drivers. Consistency and success is what has kept both Ragan and Menard in the Cup Series for so long.
The last Cup Series race without Ragan in the field was the 2006 Ford 400 at Homestead. The last race without Menard was the 2007 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon. Ragan’s 467 and Menard’s 451 consecutive start streaks should be celebrated. Only 51 drivers in NASCAR history have made more starts than the duo, let alone with so many in a row.
Ragan made his NASCAR debut in the 2004 O’Reilly 400K Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, where he started 28th and finished 20th. Later on that season, he made his Busch Series debut at Homestead, finishing 31st. He drove a handful of Busch and Truck Series races over the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
In 2006, Ragan drove 19 Truck Series races for Jack Roush, picking up his first career top-five finish. His signs of success parlayed this into a full-time ride Cup and Busch Series ride for Roush in 2007. In his first full-time start for Roush, Ragan finished fifth in the Daytona 500. He later picked up a career best third place finish at Richmond, finishing the season with three top-10 finishes.
The following season saw Ragan break out, finishing 13th in Cup Series points. Ragan notched six top-fives and 14 top-10s. Ragan finished the season strong, with seven straight top-13 finishes, including five top-10s, before finishing 24th at Homestead.
Ragan went to Victory Lane for the first time in the Busch Series in 2009, winning at Talladega and Bristol. He earned his first Cup Series victory in the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Three races later, he sat on the pole for the Brickyard 400. Ragan also won the 2013 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, one that could be considered one of the biggest underdog victories in NASCAR history.
Over his Cup Series career, Ragan has made 469 starts, with his 470th coming at Homestead. He has visited Victory Lane twice and finished in the top-five 15 times. He also has two victories in the Busch/Xfinity Series.
Menard broke into NASCAR in 2003, driving one Cup, six Busch and five Truck Series starts for Andy Petree. He drove 27 Busch Series races in 2004, ending the season with Dale Earnhardt Inc, where he found more success. Over 14 races with Petree, Menard finished in the top-15 twice. After moving over to DEI, Menard finished in the top-15 in six of his 13 starts. The following season, Menard finished sixth in the standings.
2006 served as a breakout year for Menard, winning at Milwaukee on his way to another sixth place finish in the standings. Earlier in the season, Menard made his third career Cup Series start, finishing an impressive seventh at Atlanta.
Menard went full-time Cup Series racing with DEI in 2007, failing to qualify for six races, but again seeing improvements as the season progressed. 2008 saw him win his first career Cup Series pole position (Daytona) and pick up his first top-five finish (2nd at Talladega).
He bounced around the following two seasons, driving for Yates Racing in 2009 and Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010, before finding a home with Richard Childress in 2011.
Menard’s most success came with Childress, capped off by his first career win in the 2011 Brickyard 400. He also qualified for The Chase in 2015, finishing a career best 14th in points. Menard drove for RCR through the 2017 season. He earned his four best career finishes in the standings to date with the team.
From 2011 to the current date, Menard has made 55 Xfinity Series starts, notching an impressive 42 top-10 finishes along the way.
Over Menard’s career, he won one Cup and three Busch/Xfinity Series races. He has 69 career Cup Series top-10 finishes, as well as 102 in the Xfinity Series.
Ragan and Menard may not have a championship to their name. They may not be looked back on as perennial contenders, but their stats are not to be looked down upon in any way shape or form. It’s not a case of “what could have been” but should be a celebration of what these two have done over their impactful NASCAR careers.
Despite all the unnecessary jabs they may receive from time to time, they deserve all the praise. Their success is underestimated. They not only made it to the highest level of Motorsports, but they made a career out of it. They both found the pinnacle of hallowed Motorsports success, with Ragan winning at Daytona and Menard at Indianapolis. They both left a lasting impact in NASCAR and we are all lucky to have been around to witness it.
Thank you David. Thank you Paul. For everything.