NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Running Their Mouth: 2011 Coke Zero 400

*Best Quote*

“Yeah, because all you guys want to talk about it on a regular basis. I was hoping to win one a little earlier than the July 4th race here, but it’s a good feeling to come back here…[it’s] kind of we got one back at Daytona. It would have been tough to lose another one. I thought about that actually under that last caution. I said, man, if we don’t win this thing, I said I’m not going to talk to anyone afterwards. So we were able to win. That does ease the pain from February. Its still nice to think about that Daytona 500 ring, but it’s awesome. This is a great race. Coca-Cola being a partner of ours, a lot of the Ford guys are down here. This is a race that’s a total team effort, because the engine department has to do their job, the race car has to be good, and teammates helped us win. So it does ease the pain.” – _Race winner David Ragan on redemption at Daytona_

Nearly five months ago, David Ragan was poised to be the Cinderella story of Daytona, the leader in the closing laps. But a well-publicized gaffe on a restart cost Ragan a legitimate shot at NASCAR’s biggest race.

This time around, Ragan didn’t screw up. Running a flawless race with veteran teammate Matt Kenseth, both drivers executed a textbook restart on the second green-white-checker attempt and drove away to the win as the field wrecked itself coming to the finish. This one meant more than being a first-time win that was years in the making; Ragan also moved to 17th in points on the strength of his first career victory, moving him into serious contention for a wild card Chase berth.

It’s way too big a leap to call Ragan’s job secure on the strength of this one victory, or to say the UPS sponsorship is sure to come back to the No. 6 team in 2012. But, the way the 2011 Chase has changed, Ragan is now a player. This team pulls out another win on an intermediate oval during the summer stretch, and they’re suddenly postseason contenders. There’s no real diminishing the significance of this win; scoring a first-time victory at Daytona and going from also-ran to Chase contender is about as big a holiday weekend as they come.

*Worst Quote*

“I can’t explain what I’ve been through this year. Its tough at times and it’s good at times, but I just know that I’ve got really good people behind me and that’s why I say that about Ford and everybody at the Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway on the Nationwide side. I’ve got great people behind me, so that gives me confidence. If I didn’t have that and I didn’t have my faith and everything else, right now that would be a pretty bad blow I can promise you that.” _Trevor Bayne, 41st, after wrecking on lap 4_

Trevor Bayne has already endured about as difficult a season as a Daytona 500 champion can, and this Saturday night the track that saw him score one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history claimed its pound of flesh (or this case, sheet metal). Bayne came within a hair of sitting on the pole for his return to Daytona Beach, but being at the front of the field proved to be of little safety. Surrounded by teammates who had pre-arranged drafting partners up front, Bayne was dropping through the field before Brad Keselowski hooked the No. 21 in Turn 1, sending the Wood Brothers machine hard into the fence. Going from Daytona 500 champion and Nationwide Series title contender to part-time competitor has been the big-picture high and low for Bayne, and going from winner to 41st-place finisher at Daytona was just the latest episode.

Side note, with Ragan visiting Victory Lane and Bayne’s stock having cooled, fairly or not, after his lengthy spring absence, it’s not a stretch to say the chances of seeing Bayne full-time in Cup next season dropped even further on Saturday night.

*Funniest Quote*

“A lot of guys wrecked. I don’t know. I felt like Marcos [Ambrose] and I were working good and we were trying to be smart and bide our time, but then it all fell apart. We lost the draft a little bit and then we got caught behind the [Nos.] 7 and 35 and by the time we got hooked back up everybody was gone. We’re not sure if we have a fuel pump issue, but we ran out of fuel when we weren’t supposed to, so the pit stop took even longer. After that, it was just survival. I felt kind of bad because Marcos and I were racing for the lucky dog, but I was happy that the yellow came out twice so we both got our laps back. After that, it was just trying to miss the wreck. We didn’t quite miss it but I stayed wide open when it happened and kind of bulled my way through there and finished tenth.” _AJ Allmendinger, tenth, on his most unlikely result_

The Dinger has never been one to mince words, and his was a most honest answer as to how the No. 43 came out of nowhere to score a top 10 finish. On a night that saw the Ford camp again the class of the field, Richard Petty Motorsports was nowhere to be seen, with Ambrose and Allmendinger both non-factors for much of the evening. But, another plate-race, another crapshoot, and Dinger came out on the positive side.

*Most Controversial Quote*

“What kind of move can you make? I mean, man. What kind of move can you make in racing like this? There ain’t no move you can make. You just hold it on the mat and try not to wreck into each other. You see how good we are at that.” – _Dale Earnhardt Jr., 19th, on the bedlam that was the homestretch on Saturday night_

It’s hardly a surprise that Jr. would be frustrated in his post-race comments; after all, Daytona marked the best chance he’s had in some time to break an ever-growing losing streak. That’s not really a significant revelation, but hearing one of the best plate racers in the sport actively criticize the current racing package for the second event running is a story that isn’t getting enough play. This two-car tandem racing is not racing, it’s choreographed driving. The only thing missing is the judges table and background music.

*Crew Chief Quote of the Week*

“You know, when you do this two-by-two thing, you’ve got a partner that you come into pit road with especially in a green-flag stop. So you get together with those guys and you figure out what they want to do. Luckily, we got a great teammate in Matt Kenseth and Jimmy Fennig. Jimmy and I were on the radio together deciding what we want to do, two, four, gas only and things like that. It was real easy when you’ve got someone with the experience of Jimmy talking you through it. I tell him what I wanted to do, and he said that’s good. Let’s do it. We stayed together all night. That was a great opportunity for us to work with two veteran guys and have that leadership with us.” – _Drew Blickensderfer, race winning crew chief, on a team effort at Roush Fenway Racing_

Plenty’s been said about the teamwork of David Ragan and Matt Kenseth, about how the veteran was calling the race over the radio for Ragan in the closing laps and how the No. 17 car stuck to the No. 6 like glue for the entire final run to the checkers. But this master and apprentice relationship carried over to the men atop the war wagon, and Blickensderfer was quick to make reference to Jimmy Fennig’s contribution to Saturday’s victory. Fennig, a fixture in the Roush camp for years and the 2004 champion crew chief, has been there and seen everything the Daytona International Speedway can throw at a race team. This time, that combination of Fennig and Kenseth, both title winners, was enough to deliver the win for Ragan and the No. 6 team.

*Owner Quote of the Week*

“This is fantastic. Andy did a great job in the limited practice time to get the set-up working with Doug [Richert, crew chief] and the guys to get us up front on the grid. The guys at Roush/Yates gave us great horsepower and we were able to parlay that into a top qualifying run. Doug and the team have been rubbing on this car for weeks. Seeing the [No.] 71 up on the top of the leaderboard for a good chunk of the day was awesome. I hope that this will help us gain a little more respect tomorrow on the track and our Ford friends will draft with us. This is a big boost for Andy’s confidence and our team as we head into the second half of the season. We are close on working with a couple of key sponsor partners for the rest of the year so this really helps! I just want to say thanks to our TRG Motorsports partners that have hung in there with us, this is for them!” – _Kevin Buckler on TRG Motorsports’ top 10 qualifying effort_

Andy Lally found himself the victim of the rookie shuffle early and often on Saturday night, unable to find a dancing partner and sent to the back from his eighth place starting position almost as soon as the green flag dropped. Lally’s inability to find consistent drafting help resulted in a quiet 27th-place finish for the No. 71 team, but the qualifying results were still a step forward. Team owner Kevin Buckler came into 2011 knowing full well that sponsorship would be hard to come by and that his driver, a former road racing ace, had a lot to learn. Yet through signing Doug Richert as crew chief and moving his operation into the Ford camp, TRG Motorsports is still moving forward in establishing themselves on the Cup circuit. Its hard to fault Buckler for taking such pride in his team’s time trial effort.

*Best of the Rest*

“It seems like something always happens to us on the last lap at Daytona. Ryan [Newman] and I were protecting the middle on that last restart down the back straightaway, and when those guys got a run on the outside, we disconnected and fell back. Then, they were wrecking in front of us coming to the checkered flag and I went spinning in the grass to avoid them. Our car was running hot all night, but when the [No.] 39 and us were hooked up; we could go to the front when we wanted to. For me, it’s disappointing that we didn’t win or help the [No.] 39 win, but we salvaged a decent finish.” _Denny Hamlin, 13th_

“Just another typical Daytona for us. Its just disappointing to know how strong the Bass Pro Shops/NRA Chevy was tonight and how close we’ve been both times at Daytona this year to win. Its just a product of this racing, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Sooner or later, luck is going to go our way at this place.” _Ryan Newman, 23rd, after wrecking on the final lap_

“We ran well with Kurt as we did here during Speedweeks back in February. Even though we got shuffled to the middle of the pack before the first big wreck happened tonight, I still felt we could have made a move and picked up a number of spots in track position. But those wrecks and flat tire ended any hopes of that happening.” _Regan Smith, 24th_

“It was an unfortunate night for the Golden Corral team. We were really looking forward to coming back here to Daytona and trying to get a top-10 finish so kids could eat free on Monday. We started having problems with the engine just before the spin. Unfortunately, situations like this are just a product of this type of racing.” _Dave Blaney, 39th_

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