Tony Stewart has a nominee for driver of the year in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, and it's not Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch - the three drivers who have combined for 22 victories in 34 events this season.

Stewart's choice didn't even make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but the driver of the #20 Toyota singled out his selection because of the dramatic improvement he's made in two full seasons of Cup racing.

"I would pick David Ragan - just from the standpoint that that kid has impressed me so much from where he started in this series to where he has been at the end of the year this year," said Stewart, who appeared Friday in the media centre at Phoenix International Raceway during the announcement of his appointment as grand marshal of the Fiesta Bowl Parade in January.

"I think he's probably demonstrated the most growth and patience of any of the drivers out there."

Ragan has 13 top-ten finishes this season, ten more than he had last year, and currently is 13th in the Cup standings, tops among drivers who missed the Chase.

Stewart will perform the pregame coin toss at the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5. He also indicated that the signing of a crew chief for Ryan Newman, his team-mate at Stewart-Haas Racing next year, and the hiring of a director of competition for Stewart-Haas are imminent and that an announcement could come as early as next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News