Racing into overtime and darkness, David Ragan powered into the lead on the final lap to win the rain-delayed Aaron’s 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway. As usual at Talladega, the race was spiced with intense action and for those that sat through the marathon event, they witnessed a wild and woolly finish, one that ended well into the evening.
Due to a 3 ½-hour rain delay, the 10th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season took more than seven hours to complete. After the stop for rain, it didn’t appear the race would run to the conclusion as the skies were darkening and light sprinkles were falling as the final laps were run. Because of the late hour, NASCAR officials announced there would only be one attempt for a green-white-checkered flag finish.
The event went into overtime after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and J. J. Yeley tangled, triggering a multi-car accident on the 184th lap. In the accident, Kurt Busch flipped over, landing on Ryan Newman’s car.
No injuries were sustained in the melee.
As the field lined up for the final charge to the finish, Matt Kenseth led Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Regan Smith, Stenhouse, Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Scott Speed, Brad Keselowski, winner Ragan and David Gilliland.
When the green flag dropped, Ragan, who was pushed by teammate Gilliland, charged forward overhauling the front-running foes to score his second career Sprint Cup victory.
His first victory came at Daytona in 2011, and today’s win came in his 228th Sprint Cup race. Also, today’s victory was his first top-10 of year.
The winner drove the Farm Rich Ford fielded by the small Front Row Motorsports team.
“The Front Row Motorsports team puts a little extra emphasis into it when we come to Daytona and Talladega,” the jubilant winner said. “The draft is a big equalizer and anything can happen. Our Ford was fast, and we made the right pit calls all day. The pit crew was flawless, and we were in the right place at the right time.
“David Gilliland gave us a great push, and I owe him a lot. Everybody on our team works so hard; we are a small team that builds our own cars. This is big. You win one of these Sprint Cup races, and you don’t want to be the guy to win only one.”
Regarding the final push to the front, he added, “I would have settled for an 18th when the rainstorm came in. Our cars were good, and we put four tires on the next to last stop and fuel only on the last one. On the restart, I got a great start and I wanted to stay with Aric Almirola but I stayed with Matt Kenseth. And off turn two, Kenseth was blocking everyone, and then David (Gilliland) pushed me like there was no tomorrow.
“And to do it (with a small team) at Talladega is a true David and Goliath story.”
Stated crew chief Jay Guy, “Today was a long day. Everyone had to keep focused. We had a game plan and we executed. It is a proud day for us.”
Added owner Bob Jenkins, “What makes it special is the time and effort is how much our guys put into these cars. We haven’t always had the resources, but we build cars that we try to make better every week and put ourselves into position to win races. That’s what we did today and if it hadn’t been for the two drivers working together at the end, we wouldn’t be here now. It is very satisfying, and I knew it was just a matter of time before we would win one of these things.”
Teammate Gilliland ended up second in the Love’s Travel Stops Ford, also from the Front Row stable. He tied his career-best finish, having earned a runner-up at Sonoma in 2008.
Edwards took third in the Fastenal Ford after starting from the pole position.
“The race went well for us and thought we were going to win this thing until the rain went away,” Edwards stated. “I was pretty frustrated about this, but the last 60 laps were the most educational laps I’ve ever had at a plate race. I learned a ton and had a blast. I thought I had it won until the last lap until I saw these guys coming. I didn’t even know who they were, but they were coming. I tried to block as much as I could, but David (Ragan) did everything but spin me out on the backstretch. These guys got by and we had a one-two-three finish for Ford.”
Michael Waltrip and Johnson were fourth and fifth.
Trailing the front five were Regan Smith, Martin Truex Jr., Kenseth, Scott Speed and Almirola.
Kenseth led 142 laps while Ragan led four.
Five caution flags slowed the race for 31 laps.
In points, Johnson leads Edwards by 41 with Earnhardt moving up to third. He’s 59 behind.
Clint Bowyer, Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Almirola, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle round out the top-10.
Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers teamed up for a 34th place finish after the latter got caught up with a wreck shortly after he took over from Hamlin.
Danica Patrick had a good run and looked to be headed for a strong finish, only to be caught up in the last wreck. She was scored 33rd.
The Sprint Cup Series travels to the Darlington Raceway to race next Saturday evening.