TALLADEGA, Alabama: Rain and wrecks pushed NASCAR to the edge of darkness Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, where three of the biggest names in the sport led the field to final flag.
NASCAR was giving it one final go to get the rain-delayed race wrapped up, and Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson were at the head of the pack for the two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.
None of them ever saw David Ragan coming.
Heck, Ragan barely even saw teammate David Gilliland hook onto his rear bumper. But Gilliland locked up with Ragan for that last-gasp push to the finish and the Front Row Motorsports drivers sliced their way to the front and put Ragan into Victory Lane for the tiny organization’s first victory.
“This is a true David versus Goliath moment here,” Ragan said.
It was the second career victory for Ragan — he also won at Daytona in July 2011 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing — and Gilliland finished second for a 1-2 finish for Front Row Motorsports.
“I wouldn’t want to line up and have to do it again,” said Ragan, who didn’t realize Gilliland was pushing him until he exited Turn 2 on the last lap. “That gave me a little extra confidence ... that I could make the right moves and I knew that he was going to stick with me. I had a great teammate. David Gilliland gave us a great push. I owe him a lot. I’ll definitely buy him lunch this week or something.”
The victory came a day after Regan Smith won the Nationwide Series race and Ragan was flooded with misfired congratulatory messages on Twitter.
“All fans- please send all congrats to (at)ReganSmith. Not this Ragan..... He is the Winner today!! Haha,” he tweeted Saturday night.
Now Ragan has his own win — just in time to qualify for the Sprint All-Star race in two weeks.
Gilliland wanted the win but was content settling for second on a day his team earned its first victory.
“What a great day for Front Row Motorsports, an underfunded team coming in here and being able to finish 1-2 is awesome,” Gilliland said. “I’m very proud of David Ragan. I know he would have done the same for me. I had a heck of a run, we were pushing, I was locked to his bumper and I wasn’t going to let him go.” The race took seven hours to complete after rain stopped it for 3 hours, 36 minutes midway through the event. With darkness quickly closing in, contact between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and J.J. Yeley triggered a frightening crash that sent Kurt Busch’s car airborne and on top of Ryan Newman’s car.
Newman has been in numerous harrowing accidents at Daytona and Talladega, where NASCAR uses restrictor-plates to control the speeds, and was sharp with his criticism after exiting the infield care center. He said he only stopped to do a live television interview to criticize cars still being able to go airborne.
“They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can’t get their heads out of their (expletive) far enough to keep them on the race track, 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.”
He also was upset NASCAR continued the race with darkness closing in on the track so quickly.
“That’s no way to end a race,” he said. “That’s just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment. I mean, you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That’s it, thank you.”