NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Ragan Atones for February Blunder with First Career Win

by Phil Allaway

Back in February’s Daytona 500, David Ragan had a very good chance to win the Daytona 500 late in the race. However, Ragan moved over in front of Trevor Bayne too early on the first Green-White-Checker restart, resulting in a 14th-place finish and a black mark on a driver that most insiders believe needed to have a great season.

On Saturday night, Ragan was able to completely wipe away any demons that he might have had from the Daytona 500.

Ragan took over the lead on the first Green-White-Checker restart of the evening with a push from teammate Matt Kenseth. On the final restart, Ragan and Kenseth got a strong challenge from the pair of Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne. However, Ragan and Kenseth were able to hold off the challenge to take a Roush Fenway one-two finish.

After the race, Ragan was ecstatic that he overcame his February disappointment.

“It was a tough one in February and coming back here, we knew that we’d have a shot to win,” Ragan said after the race. “You’ve got to have luck, you’ve got to have [good] pit stops and all that stuff. But, you’ve [also] got to have a fast car, and our UPS Ford was fast.”

Mark Martin started from the pole with Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne alongside. While Martin held the lead for the first 15 laps, Bayne slipped back down the order to find a proper drafting partner. Unfortunately, before he was able to do that, he was hooked in Turn 1 by Brad Keselowski on Lap 5. Bayne spun down the banking, hit the side of Clint Bowyer’s car, then went into the outside wall hard. The hit ended his night, relegating Bayne to a 41st-place finish. Keselowski, Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Bobby Labonte picked up some damage in the crash as well. After the restart, Keselowski ended up losing the draft and was lapped in less than 15 circuits.

Shortly after Keselowski was lapped, the second caution flew. Like in Friday night’s Nationwide race, this crash was caused by a mistimed bump draft. Greg Biffle mistimed his bump of Carl Edwards and ended up hooking Edwards into a spin. Edwards spun and hit the inside wall with his right rear corner. Edwards continued in the race after the crash, but was uncompetitive the rest of the night, finishing 26 laps down in 37th. Also, one of the crush panels was thrown from the car during the crash, resulting in fumes entering the cockpit and sickening Edwards.

Compared to the Daytona 500, Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 was quite clean. The first 155 laps saw only three yellows, the two already covered above, and a crash involving Dave Blaney on Lap 48. After the restart on Lap 53, there were 105 laps run consecutively under the green flag. Running over 250 miles straight under green led to some issues with the cars due to the tandem drafting. Joey Logano’s was extremely hot under the hood, so much that the radiator fan may have melted.

In the long runs, the top-10 to 16 drivers (or five to eight tandems) would run away and put about five seconds on the rest of the tandems. Then, they would start racing each other vigorously for the lead. That would allow much of the pack to catch up towards the end of the run. For example, after the first round of green flag pit stops, there were 32 cars within eight seconds of the leader.

The drafting saw some surprises make their presence known at the front of the field. Joe Nemechek led a lap under green while being pushed by Travis Kvapil. Same with Casey Mears being pushed by Landon Cassill. Both tandems stayed up front for much of the race.

Following the final green flag stops of the night, there were only eight cars with a legitimate shot of winning. Those cars were the four Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets, the three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, and Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet (Newman was working with Denny Hamlin). Once they started battling for position, the pack behind closed up, bringing Ragan and Kenseth, among other tandems, back into play.

Ragan’s need for his car to breathe resulted in the stack up that led to Jeff Gordon’s slide in Turn 4 that brought out the yellow on Lap 159. Gordon had to inch high to avoid Kasey Kahne, but had contact with Kyle Busch by doing that. Busch got in the outside wall, while Gordon had slight contact with Mark Martin and went for a slide in the middle of the track. Amazingly, no one hit him, but it did set up the first Green-White-Checker.

Ragan and Kenseth got a great run to take the lead on the restart, but Martin appeared to come down on Logano in Turn 2. Martin spun into Brian Vickers, and “The Big One” was on. 14 cars were involved in the crash, including several potential contenders for the win. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex, Jr. retired from the race because of the crash.

On the restart, Ragan headed the warning from Kenseth’s spotter to hold his line and held on for the win with help from Kenseth.

Second-place finisher Matt Kenseth was very happy with his run and very happy for Ragan as well.

“Its almost like two cars are one car, so in a way, I feel like we won,” Kenseth said after the race. “When we wanted to, we were able to make a charge and get up [to] the lead. I’m glad it worked out. The two speedway races have been a disaster so far this year, so I’m happy to not get wrecked tonight and finish second.”

Behind Ragan and Kenseth was Joey Logano in third with Kasey Kahne right on Logano’s bumper. Kyle Busch, despite wall contact late, rounded out the top-5.

Jeff Gordon, despite his slide on Lap 158, finished sixth. He was followed by RCR teammates Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard. Juan Pablo Montoya was ninth and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-10.

The race featured a record 57 lead changes among an all-time track record 25 leaders. The race, extended to 170 laps (425 miles) due to the two Green-White Checkers, was slowed by six cautions for 21 laps.

Due to Edwards’ issues, Harvick has re-taken the points lead. His advantage is five over Edwards. Kyle Busch is another five points back in third, while older brother Kurt Busch is up to fourth, while Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are tied for fifth, 22 points back.

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to Kentucky Speedway for the inaugural Quaker State 400.

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