INDIANAPOLIS --- There was a group of fans standing behind David Ragan's hauler waiting for an autograph two hours before pole qualifying for today's Brickyard 400.
There were even more waiting outside the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway pagoda after he won the pole.
Ragan's young career continued to gain momentum with a lap of 182.994 mph Saturday. And it's clear a lot of fans are along for the ride.
The interest in the 25 year-old driver has grown immensely in the past month. Ragan was rumored to be on the chopping block at Roush Fenway Racing earlier this year. Now he's seen as a fresh face for the sport.
He won his first race at Daytona International Speedway earlier this month, and now he'll start first in one of the biggest races of the year. He's also in position for a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
Ragan was six laps away from a possible win at the Daytona 500 when he was black-flagged for changing lanes during a restart. He was the race leader and he moved to the left lane just as he approached the green flag.
Compounding his frustration was Trevor Bayne winning the race. Although Bayne drives for Wood Brothers Racing, he's under contract with car owner Jack Roush.
Add that with the final year of UPS' contract with the race team, and it was easy to speculate that Ragan would be gone at the end of the year.
But now that's changed.
"This has been a good year for him," Jimmie Johnson said after qualifying third. "Now he can drive the car 100 percent instead of having to drive it over the line. If you drive it over the line enough, you'll bust your butt and tear up some cars. That's what he did.
"But I've seen a big change in him this year. A pole like this will help him evolve even more."
It also mighty help convince UPS to extend its contract.
"There are a few deals that still have to be worked out, but I really feel good about where that's going," Ragan said. "There are a lot more positives right now than negatives. I don't know how much the Daytona win helped, but things are going really good with UPS right now. I feel good about it. I know the win at Daytona helped me sell a lot of souvenirs."
Kasey Kahne qualified second at 182.927 mph., followed by Johnson, Kurt Busch in fourth and Brad Keselowski in fifth. Nine of 17 winners at Indianapolis have started in the first four spots.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.