I have a buddy – an unemployed buddy – who keeps going on job interviews and is repeatedly told he's a "finalist" for various positions. But when it comes time for companies to make the actual hire, my friend keeps getting passed up and, thus, is still jobless.
For much of the offseason, David Ragan seemed to find himself in that same position. Ragan's No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing effectively folded due to lack of sponsorship after the season was over, and Roush didn't have any other gigs for Ragan.
Heck, who did have an available ride? Unless a driver was attached to sponsorship dollars, teams didn't seem to be hiring.
"Yeah, I was a little nervous," Ragan said last week. "Obviously, knowing there are good drivers out there on the market...you're like, 'Man, I need to get my ducks in a row.'"
But shortly into December, the Georgia native was mentioned as the leading candidate to replace Kurt Busch in Penske Racing's No. 22 car, and it seemed everything would work out for the better.
Penske bucked the conventional wisdom, though, and AJ Allmendinger got the job instead.
Ragan was subsequently passed over for Phoenix Racing's No. 51 car (Busch's new ride), Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 car (Aric Almirola), and even JR Motorsports' No. 88 car (Cole Whitt).
As more and more of Silly Season's musical chairs were filled, it seemed Ragan could be left without a seat for the 2012 campaign.
Fortunately for him, Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins was interested in acquiring Ragan's services. And so it came to be that Ragan will drive the team's No. 34 car this season, teaming with David Gilliland.
"It's been fun so far," Ragan said sincerely. "Ultimately, we know there are going to be some challenges along the way. We're not going to be able to unload at Texas and be the first car on the speed charts after the first lap. But we've got some goals, and I think there's a lot of potential there."
Last year, as his future at Roush became questionable, Ragan repeatedly vowed to not accept a Sprint Cup Series ride "just to say I'm a Cup driver."
"I had said from Day 1, I was not going to start-and-park a Sprint Cup car," he said. "I would even run an ARCA car before I would start-and-park. If I'm going to make a living, I'll move back home and be a peanut farmer and sell Ford trucks.
"I'm doing this because it's a competition, I want to grow as a driver and ultimately be a race winner."
Front Row Motorsports, Ragan believes, is a chance to help a team take the next step in its development while also growing as a driver.
"Just being 26 years old, I've still got a lot to learn," he said. "I think a year doing this – or maybe even a couple years doing this – will make me a smarter driver and a better driver down the road."
So why Front Row? Ragan – unfailingly polite and sponsor-friendly, but with a sharp sense of humor – said he had a couple options on the table. Ultimately, though, he was swayed by team owner Bob Jenkins' enthusiasm for racing.
Jenkins, who owns many of the A&W, Taco Bell and Long John Silver's restaurants in the southeast, told Ragan he has put much of his personal money into the team and was committed to building the organization.
"If we get some sponsorship, I'm not going to put it in my pocket," Jenkins told Ragan. "We're going to get an R&D team, get some wind tunnel time."
Ragan was impressed at how far the team had come in just a few seasons of existence and how it's lasted through some tough times – unlike some of the organizations that make an initial splash and fade away.
"It's become a pretty good team in short amount of time with not a lot of money," Ragan said. "... I thought, 'Man, this guy has done a nice job. He's been smart; he hasn't been stupid with his money like some of these other teams have. I could see there was something material there to work with."
So what will the team do with Ragan in one of its cars? The driver said there were "realistic expectations" – which don't include the Chase.
But there will be some chances to win a race, Ragan insisted, starting with the Daytona 500.
"Our goals are realistic," he said. "We need to be in the mid-20s in points. That would be an improvement over what they had last year. We need to be a top-25 team."
Is that possible? The No. 34 car finished 31st in owner points last season; the No. 38 car was 35th.
But Ragan believes if the team avoids trouble and finds some consistency, he can help Front Row take the next step in its development.
"I think they've got a lot of the right parts of the puzzle," he said. "It's just a matter of getting them aligned right."