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Davids Beating Goliaths: Plate Racing And The Great Equalizer

Daytona and Talladega have been considered major equalizers in NASCAR’s national series for many years. Sure, the guys who you’d expect to win tend to do so, but that’s not before a couple of underdogs challenge for the victory in some capacity, either eventually scoring solid finishes or wrecking out trying to do it.

Sunday night didn’t change that trend forever, but it did throw a real wrench into the equation. Front Row Motorsports won a NASCAR race.

Restrictor plate racing allows underdogs like David Ragan, David Gilliland and Michael Waltrip to walk out with the top-5 results they got on Sunday at Talladega.

David Ragan, pushed along by teammate David Gilliland, manhandled their way to the front of the pack on the final lap, with darkness looming after a long rain delay. Once Ragan was ahead, he stayed there, bringing his teammate along for a shocking 1-2 finish.

It’s the kind of thing many would never expect. A farce. Some sort of fluke.

But that’s just plate racing for you.

For years, NASCAR’s smaller teams have traveled to these superspeedways with a skip in their step. It’s much easier for an underfunded organization to stay in contention because of the heightened importance of drafting. Sure, a David defeating a Goliath may not have happened in the Cup Series, in recent years at these tracks, but there was still the sheer potential of it happening. The stars just needed to align.

On Sunday, they did — and then some. Ragan and Gilliland swept the top two spots. Even Scott Speed came home ninth in the part-time Leavine Family Racing No. 95.

Let’s be real: those results aren’t a huge surprise. It used to be that Phoenix Racing was the underdog-team-most-likely-to-succeed, but in recent years, Front Row Motorsports has established itself as a force to be reckoned with at Daytona and Talladega. Remember 2011, when Gilliland piloted the team’s No. 34 to a third and ninth in the first two restrictor plate races? This ending was coming. You had to see the fairy tale coming.

That doesn’t make it any less sweet.

It’s moments like these that makes restrictor plate racing so entertaining and intriguing. Going in, you never know who’s going to win. You never know who’s going to run up front. Anyone could be there, and most of the time, everyone is near the leader at some point.

It’s what keeps me glued to my TV, no matter what lap it may be. For every lap a usual contender leads, a driver I never see up front paces another. The final laps are even more mesmerizing. Entrancing, even. So-and-so from such-and-such underfunded team is running 15th with just a few laps to go. He or she is still in the lead draft. Could he/she pull off the upset? I thought the same thing on the final restart, when Ragan and Gilliland were found near the front and in contention. Anything could happen, and it did.

This win won’t change much for Front Row Motorsports. The team will likely still be a step or two behind the big guns at the normal race tracks. Ragan, Gilliland and Josh Wise will still finish fairly low in the points, with but a few high points to speak of.

But wow, what a high point.

Today, the Davids beat the Goliaths of NASCAR — literally. It’s the moment for which we’ve been waiting for years, when a form of racing that levels the playing field finally produces an underdog winner.

Bring on Daytona.

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Kevin Rutherford
Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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