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Top 20 countdown: No. 12 David Ragan

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

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(Photos: Getty Images)

2008 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
13 0 0 6 14
The countdown
No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Kurt Busch
No. 17: Kasey Kahne
No. 16: Brian Vickers
No. 15: Tony Stewart
No. 14: Jamie McMurray
No. 13: Clint Bowyer
No. 12: David Ragan
No. 11: Revealed Wednesday

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

2008 finish: 13th

2009 outlook: The most asked question in 2009 will involve Jimmie Johnson and whether he can win a fourth straight championship. The second-most asked question will be about David Ragan and when his first Cup victory will come.

After a tumultuous rookie season, in which Tony Stewart referred to him as a dart without feathers, Ragan has emerged as the popular answer to just about every "who's next" question.

Q: Who will be the next first-time Cup winner?

A: David Ragan

Q: Who will be the next first-time Chase qualifier?

A: David Ragan

The expectations are certainly there. A year ago, team owner Jack Roush believed that Ragan could take the next step forward, and he did, going from three top 10s in his rookie campaign to 14 last year.

But the learning curve steepens as Ragan goes from leapfrogging the likes of Casey Mears, J.J. Yeley and Reed Sorenson to battling the big boys up front.

Can he take that next step forward?

While prevailing wisdom says yes, there is reason for at least a little pause. Ragan led only 27 laps last season. So while he may be ready to run up front, he's still got work to do to be in front.

That said, he should be a strong contender to make the Chase. Anything less would be a disappointment.

What you need to know: Ragan said he'd be devastated if he doesn't win a race this season, prompting Roush to say, "Devastation is a hard thing. … But certainly I'll be disappointed and they'll be the victim of unbelievable bad luck or mismanagement on my part if we let that happen. I'm determined not to mismanage him and hopefully the luck will work out for us."