Friday, Jun 09

Ragan's Redemption Song

David Ragan had shown the style, flash and perseverance of a winner several times this season, only to lose chances at victory because of circumstances most foul.

One of those chances—in the season-opening Daytona 500—fell by the wayside because of a major procedural mistake by Ragan. He switched lanes—from the outside to the inside—at the front of the pack on a late-race restart and was blackflagged by NASCAR, ruining a golden opportunity to win NASCAR's biggest race.

Ragan washed away much of the memory of that mistake with champagne Saturday night as he held on through the final frantic laps and won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

The victory was Ragan's first in the Sprint Cup Series. It came in his 163rd race. And, although Ragan said he has tried to forget much about the Daytona 500's closing laps, he admitted that Saturday's win brought redemption.

"We got one back at Daytona," he said. "It would have been tough to lose another one. I thought about that under that last caution. I said, ‘Man, if we don't win this thing, I'm not going to want to talk to anyone afterward.

"We were able to win. That does ease the pain from February."

Ragan led the last eight laps of the race as it went into 10 laps of overtime, thanks to late-race crashes that forced two green-white-checkered runs. Although some other tandem drafting pairs were broken up by wrecks, Ragan and his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth stayed together virtually the entire race, and Kenseth was pushing him at the finish.

"We made a pact with our teammate Matt Kenseth that we were going to work together through thick or thin," Ragan said. "I was a little worried about that, too. Sometimes falling to the back and [getting] to the front you get jammed up through the race, so I didn't know if that was the right decision or not, but the bottom line is our car was fast, and that's what wins these races.

"You've got to have a little bit of luck. You've got to have good pit stops. All of that stuff goes into effect, but you've got to have a fast car, and our UPS Ford was fast. The engine ran flawless, and that's what won the race for us. Having Matt right behind us, I knew that we'd have a good pusher, and so that's what was going through my mind."

Kenseth, who was talking to Ragan via team radio in the closing laps, said he has seen Ragan "mature a lot and learn a lot. … They've had really fast cars, and you could kind of see it coming.

"They've been improving. It's really hard to win at this level. You can see that they've been improving along with the organization, so I'm happy for them to get that win because he deserves it, especially after the 500, as well."

Ragan and Kenseth swept across the finish line ahead of the drafting pair of Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne to end the second green-white-checkered—and the race. Chaos erupted behind them as two separate wrecks scattered cars through the third and fourth turns and the first half of the frontstretch.

Teammates, car manufacturer colleagues and even fierce rivals hooked up in two-car drafts at various times during the race, and only the jousting over the closing laps gave a hint as to the eventual winner. There were 25 race leaders—a Daytona record—and 57 lead changes—a race record.

The 12 leaders began bunching with two laps to go in regulation, and that produced a moment of mayhem in the fourth turn. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were trying to move through the center of the group when Kahne, then drafting with teammate Brian Vickers, moved up the track and into Gordon, sending Gordon in a slide.

As the caution flag flew, assuring that the race would go into extra laps, Gordon made one of the season's best saves to straighten his car and continue around the track to the pits.

That set up the first green-white-checkered run, with Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and Ragan taking the green flag. That green-flag period lasted only into the second turn, as contact between Martin and Logano sparked a massive wreck involving most of the lead pack.

After cleanup, the second green-white-checkered attempt featured Ragan and Newman up front.

Kenseth was on Ragan's bumper at the green flag and stayed there for the final two laps of the second green-white-checkered, pushing Ragan to the win.

Series point leader Carl Edwards was a victim of the intricate nature of tandem drafting 24 laps into the race.

Edwards was running in front of Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle in a two-car draft when contact between the two caused Edwards to lose control and slide across the track before hitting the inside wall. Biffle scraped the outside wall.

Edwards spent time on pit road and in the garage for repairs to the rear of his car. Damage to the crush-panel area caused exhaust fumes to push into the cockpit of the car, making the ride very uncomfortable for Edwards, who was eight laps down 50 laps into the race. He finished 37th and lost the point lead to Kevin Harvick, who finished seventh.

Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne met the other extreme at the speedway very early in the race. Hooked up in a draft with Brad Keselowski, Bayne slammed head-on into the turn one wall after contact from Keselowski on lap six. Bayne's Ford sustained front-end damage, and he parked for the night.

The cars of Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray also sustained damage during the Turn 1 crash, but their repairs were made on pit road.

Ragan's win came at a good time. He gained three positions in points to 17th and, with the victory, gains a good shot at one of the wild-card spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Additionally, team owner Jack Roush is involved in negotiations with UPS, the Ragan team's major sponsor, for a renewal for next season.

"I'm certainly hopeful UPS will carry on in a meaningful regard with sponsoring with the 6 car," Roush said. "We don't have assurance that will be the case. David has arrived at the upper echelon. He's a winner now. He's given UPS a win. It will be something UPS can think about as they make their determination about next year."

AJ Allmendinger gave Ford another spot in the top 10, finishing in 10th as he fought his way through late-race accidents to improve from 31st.

Ford Racing PR


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