The ‘Davids’ lined up on the Goliaths at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday — and won.
With an assist from his Front Row Racing teammate David Gilliland, David Ragan snookered three of the top restrictor-plate specialists in NASCAR — Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards — and took home the checkered flag in a wild, crashed-filled, weather-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup Aaron’s 499.
In fact, it was as the race went into overtime — on a day when drivers waited through a three-hour, 36-minute rain delay, and battled the elements, impending nightfall and each other — when Ragan blew by stock cars’ elite for his second career Cup win.
“You win these Sprint Cup races and you never want to be a guy that never wins one,” Ragan said. “You win one and you don’t want to be that guy that just wins one, you want to win two and win three.
“We love this place. Front Row Motorsports puts a little emphasis coming to Daytona and Talladega. The draft is a big equalizer and anything can happen. Our Ford was fast. We made the right pit calls all day. Our pit crew was flawless and we were just in the right place at the right time. I had a great teammate. David Gilliland gave us a great push. I owe him a lot.”
Ragan had led three laps prior to the green-white-checkered finish. He lined up 10th for the final restart with Gilliland behind him. Both drivers felt the urgency with two laps to decide the contest.
“My crew chief Frank Kerr said, ‘I needed the restart of my life,’ and I had a good one,” Gilliland said. “It was dark out there, sprinkling a little bit, dry sweep was on the windshield a bunch, but we got a good restart.
“I got hooked up with my teammate there. Michael Waltrip got behind me and was giving me a great shove and I had some good momentum and got hooked up with Ragan there and just stayed glued to his bumper and kind of worked our way up through there and came home 1-2 for Front Row Motorsports. It’s a huge day."
Kenseth led 142 laps before the race was extended to 192 due to the second multi-car wreck with darkness approaching and rain beginning to fall on the drivers’ windshields. He asked his spotter Chris Lambert to make an arrangement with Johnson to team up and hold off Edwards. But little did he know that the challenge would come from the Nos. 34 and 38 Fords and not Edwards.
“I tried to get right on Carl and he blocked — which you should — and we got real wide getting up there in (Turn) 1 because he got me pretty far to the top and I just didn’t watch the runs from them guys way in the back,” Kenseth said.
“They just got a huge run up the middle. I saw David (Ragan) at the last minute but he was going too fast so if I pulled in front of him I was just going to get wrecked so I just had to bite the bullet and try to find a hole — which there wasn’t one — and finish the best we can.”
Kenseth dropped to eighth at the finish. Johnson, who salvaged a fifth-place finish and maintained the points lead by 41 over Edwards, was equally stunned.
“I thought we would settle the race by ourselves,” Johnson said of the contest between himself, Kenseth and Edwards. “But there was no way to block the speed they were bringing.”
Still, Edwards, who finished third, said he tried to hold off the chargers but insisted that Ragan "did everything but wreck me."
“On the white flag lap, I thought we’re gonna win it until I saw these guys coming,” Edwards said. “I thought ‘who is that?’ And they were coming. I blocked as much as I could. David (Ragan) did everything but spin me out down the back straightaway. He was all over the back bumper and I could feel from the way he was pushing and moving if I turned to stay across his hood, he went one way and then he went the other.
”I knew I was going to be on the highlight reel for the wrong reasons, so these guys got by and we had a 1-2-3 finish for Ford, which is huge.”
But the winning Ford and the runner-up didn’t come from the power house of Roush Fenway Racing. Nor did it come from the defending championship squad of Penske Racing. The winning Ford was prepared by Front Row Motorsports out of a second-hand race shop in Statesville, N.C.
While the Nos. 34 and 38 Fusions were powered by Roush-Yates engines, team owner Bob Jenkins took pride in the home-grown effort that went into this victory. In an era when organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing boast 100 employees per team, FRM manages its program with 70 employees for all three squads (FRM also owns the No. 35 driven by Josh Wise).
For Jenkins, who began dabbling in NASCAR in 2005 before fielding a full-time effort four years ago, his first win came after 406 starts. And he was proud, yet humbled by the accomplishment.
“I’ve always said in the racing graveyard my epitaph won’t be ‘I won the most championships,’ but I want to be known as a team that did the most with the least,” Jenkins said. “Every year we try to get better.
“We work within ourselves. The chassis we run, we build. We’re unable to go out and buy products from other teams and that’s a disadvantage, but on a day like today it really makes you feel good because the equipment that you won the race with was what you built in your own shop, so that’s what makes it so gratifying.”
And although there hasn’t been much of a buzz out of Front Row Motorsports before Sunday, even the best in NASCAR now know that they’re here.
THE BIG ONE(S)
Talladega Superspeedway lived up to its treacherous reputation on Sunday as 28 drivers were collected in wrecks throughout the race.
The first wreck occurred on Lap 43 with Kyle Busch accepting complete blame over the radio for hooking Kasey Kahne and collecting 14 others in the process.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Busch said. “I know I got in the back of the 5 (Kahne) and I guess I was trying to go to the outside of him, but he just moved up in front of me and I wasn’t expecting it and I tried to go to the outside of him and before I could get to the outside of him I got in the back of him.
“I just hate that I caused a hell of a melee for everybody. I hate that. A lot of cars got torn up and it’s way too early in the race to be doing any of those sorts of moves whether he made it or I made it. Just I hate it that we all got crashed in that deal.”
Busch returned to action on Lap 95 and finished 37th. But it was Busch’s sibling Kurt who was one of the innocent victims in the second crash. Busch was running in the top five when rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the action four-wide on Lap 183 and collided with J.J. Yeley, sending the No. 36 into the field and flipping Kurt Busch’s car on top of Ryan Newman’s in the process.
How did Dale Earnhardt Jr. view the wreck?
“(Stenhouse) drove up on somebody and there really wasn’t a spot there,” he said.
Although Kurt Busch was disappointed, he realized the accident was out of his control.
“We just got hit from behind and along for the ride we went,” said Kurt Busch, who finished 30th after leading two laps.
Newman wasn’t nearly as diplomatic.
“They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls, but they can’t get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the racetrack and that’s pretty disappointing,” Newman said. “I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is.
“That’s no way to end a race. Our car was much better than that. That’s just poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That’s it. Thank you.”
Stenhouse, who finished 13th, expressed no remorse on the radio, but he might have some explaining to do on the way home since his girlfriend Danica Patrick was also a victim. Patrick finished 33rd.
5 — the number of Fords that finished in the top 10 on Sunday
7 — Aric Almirola’s current points standing following Sunday’s 10th-place finish, his fourth consecutive top 10
22 — the number of lead changes, among 15 drivers
Before Ragan attempted to find Victory Lane on Sunday, he elected to take a victory lap and celebrate with the patrons that waited more than seven hours for the finish.
“I’m going to give these fans some love,” Ragan said. “Even the ones in the cheap seats.”