Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ragan Wins at Talladega

Originally written for CLNS Radio.

It looked like Carl Edwards would win the Aaron's 499 after he took the lead before a lengthy red flag for rain.  But NASCAR was able to get the race restarted to run the final 60 laps.  Edwards found himself in first on the final lap, but David Ragan was able to get around him and, in what can simply be called a David vs. Goliath story, win the race for his small team.

Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Edwards started on the pole for the Aaron's 499 after qualifying on Saturday was rained out.  Edwards started on the bottom line, and the field fanned out 3-wide behind him.  Martin Truex Jr. led the first lap, and Edwards quickly fell to eighth.  Edwards decided that his car needed to run on the top of the track, and the bottom line continued to fall back.  

On lap 6, Matt Kenseth was able to work his way around Truex for the lead.  On lap 20, Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought his car down pit road after making contact with Travis Kvapil on the racetrack.  Kvapil got into Earnhardt's left-rear, and Earnhardt had to come down after his left-rear tire went flat.

On lap 22, the first caution of the day came out for a blown engine by Trevor Bayne.  The field came down pit road, and Kenseth won the race off pit road.  Under the caution, Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers made a driver change in the No. 11.  Hamlin started the race so that he could receive championship points, but Vickers took over to allow Hamlin one more week of rest.

The race restarted on lap 28, and Kenseth was able to get a jump on the field while Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne raced for second.  Kenseth got too far ahead of second place, and Jeff Burton took the lead on lap 30.  Kenseth was able to retake the lead after getting a big push from Johnson on the next lap.

On lap 43, the big one hit in Turn 1.  Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch switched lanes coming out of the trioval.  They made contact, and Busch got into the back of Kahne, sending him into the wall and back in front of the rest of the field.  The wreck collected Kahne, Busch, Ambrose, Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, David Reutimann, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Casey Mears, David Stremme, and Scott Speed.

Jared Wickerman/Getty Images
The leaders came down pit road, and Kenseth was able to beat Johnson off pit road after taking only two tires.  

The race restarted on lap 52, and Kenseth was able to take the lead going into Turn 1.  On lap 57, Ryan Newman brought Brad Keselowski and Edwards to the front, and they took the lead.  Kenseth was able to work his way around Keselowski and Edwards, and he and Johnson were once again the leaders of the outside line.

Kenseth was able to work his way around Newman on lap 59, and he raced side-by-side with Kurt Busch for the lead.  Kenseth, with a push from Johnson, was able to get around Busch for the lead.  The top 5 quickly got into a single-file line, and they ran like that until green-flag pit stops on lap 89.  

After stops had cycles around, Kenseth was once again the leader, and the Top 14 cars were within a second of each other.  On lap 116, the Fords that were running up front got together on the high side and worked their way to the front.  Johnson jumped up in front of the line, and he was able to get around Kenseth for the lead with help from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  On lap 120, Stenhouse took the lead when Johnson was hung out on the low line, and was passed by everyone on the high side.  

The caution came out on lap 122 for rain at the racetrack.  Edwards jumped out of line and pulled up alongside Stenhouse right as the caution came out.  NASCAR went back to the last scoring loops, and Edwards was ahead of Stenhouse when the caution came out, meaning Edwards was the leader.  Edwards brought the field down pit road, and  the red flag came out to stop the race.  

After a red flag of 3 hours and 36 minutes, the track was finally dry enough for the drivers to race.  The cars re-fired just before 7 p.m. EST, and they were ready to go back racing.

Bobby Labonte, who didn't pit under the caution, led the field back to the green flag on lap 130.  He was able to hang on to the lead to lead the first lap after the caution.  On lap 133, Kenseth, who had lost the lead before the red flag, worked his way up through the pack to get to second place.  Kenseth was able to take the lead on lap 134.

On lap 158, Edwards got out of line going down the frontstretch, and he dropped to the back of the pack.  That allowed the top line to reach the back bumper of Kenseth, who had to start blocking both Johnson and Stenhouse to keep the lead.

On lap 166, Kenseth brought a handful of cars down pit road to make their final pit stops for fuel.   Johnson was able to beat everyone off pit road, and he was followed by Michael Waltrip.  Following pit stops, Stenhouse and Martin Truex Jr. were caught speeding and had to serve a pass-through penalty. 

After stops had cycled around, Johnson was the leader, and he was followed by Waltrip and Kenseth.  The caution came out on lap 173, after Michael McDowell blew a right-front tire.  

Johnson led the field back to the green flag on lap 178, and he got a big push from Kurt Busch to clear Kenseth for the lead.  On lap 179, Kenseth started to get a big run on the high side, but he didn't have enough to get around Johnson for the lead.  

On lap 180, Regan Smith got a huge run on the high side thanks to a huge push from Dave Blaney, and he moved up to second.  Blaney was able to get alongside Smith, but Smith got a huge push from Kenseth to take the lead.  On lap 182, Smith got stuck in the middle, and Kenseth was able to take the lead.

While all of that was happening, a wreck erupted near the front of the pack.  Stenhouse squeezed J.J. Yeley down the track, and it caused Yeley to spin down across the track and into Busch.  Busch flipped upside down, and he landed on top of Ryan Newman.  The wreck collected Yeley, Busch, Newman, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Clint Bowyer, Danica Patrick, Ambrose, and Jamie McMurray.

After an extended cleanup, the race was set up for a green-white-checkered finish.  NASCAR decided that because of the diminishing daylight at the track, there would only be one try at a green-white-checkered finish.  

Kenseth took the green flag with two laps to go, and Johnson gave Kenseth a big push going into Turn 1.  Going down the backstretch, Edwards got a huge push from Aric Almirola, and he was able to get around Kenseth heading into Turn 3.  Johnson got underneath Kenseth for second, but he was able to get around him to stay in second.  Going into Turn 3, David Ragan was able to get around Edwards for the lead with help from teammate David Gilliland.  Edwards tried to fight back on the outside, but he wasn't able to get alongside Ragan, who went on to win the race.

 Here are the unofficial results:

1. David Ragan
2. David Gilliland
3. Carl Edwards
4. Michael Waltrip
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Regan Smith
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Matt Kenseth
9. Scott Speed
10. Aric Almirola
11. Jeff Gordon
12. David Stremme
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
14. Marcos Ambrose
15. Brad Keselowski
16. Dave Blaney
17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
18. Clint Bowyer
19. Josh Wise
20. Bobby Labonte
21. Michael McDowell
22. Landon Cassill
23. Jamie McMurray
24. Casey Mears
25. Juan Pablo Montoya
26. Paul Menard
27. Tony Stewart
28. Jeff Burton
29. Terry Labonte
30. Kurt Busch
31. J.J. Yeley
32. Ryan Newman
33. Danica Patrick
34. Denny Hamlin
35. Joey Logano
36. Greg Biffle
37. Kyle Busch
38. Travis Kvapil
39. Joe Nemechek
40. Kevin Harvick
41. David Reutimann
42. Kasey Kahne
43. Trevor Bayne

Matt Kenseth led 142 of 192 laps at Talladega driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.  Jimmie Johnson ran up front most of the day driving for Hendrick Motorsports.  Carl Edwards was the leader on the final lap heading into Turn 3 driving for Roush-Fenway Racing.  Those three drivers race for what are arguably the three strongest and biggest race teams in the Sprint Cup Series.  But David Ragan and David Gilliland of Front Row Motorsports were able to beat them all in an unlikely victory in the Aaron's 499.

Next week, the Sprint Cup Series rolls into the "Track Too Tough to Tame," Darlington Raceway.  The Bojangels' Southern 500 can be seen next Saturday at 6:45 p.m., only on FOX.

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