Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cup - Ragan Gets First Career Win at Daytona

David Ragan, Driver of the #6 UPS FordImage by jerbec via Flickr

David Ragan cruised to his first career Cup Series win in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Racing in the two-car drafts that have become commonplace at the superspeedways, the top four finished in single file. Ragan was pushed to victory by his Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth.  The tandem of Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne didn't try to challenge the finish and finished third and fourth respectively.

A sedate race by Daytona standards turned treacherous at the end.  It took two green-white-checkered finishes and ten extra laps to settle this one.  With two separate wrecks occurring simultaneously on the final lap, NASCAR let it play out to the finish and didn't throw the caution until the leaders had crossed the line.

After three cautions in the first 50 laps, the race settled down into a long green flag run from Lap 53 to Lap 157.  Then with just three laps left to go, Kahne got together with his Red Bull teammate Brian Vickers, pushing Jeff Gordon up into Kyle Busch and Logano.  It was slight contact, but was enough to send Gordon sideways in traffic.  Gordon made a tremendous save to get the car straightened out again, but that brought out the caution and set up the first GWC attempt.

The first attempt didn't make it through Turn Two.  Racing three wide through the turn, Mark Martin drifted down on Logano, triggering the Big One.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen cars were involved in various degrees.

They lined up again for a second GWC.  Ragan got a great push from Kenseth to stay out front, but Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin challenged.  Logano and Kahne went outside to make it three wide, and Newman and Hamlin were stranded in the middle and fell back.  On the final lap, Landon Cassill got together with Marcos Ambrose, triggering a multi-car crash.  As that one was playing out, Jamie McMurray got together with Dale Earnhardt Jr., triggering another melee closer to the front of the field.

Kyle Busch finished fifth, followed by Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Juan Montoya, and A. J. Allmendinger.  (Race results)

Ragan atoned for a big mistake at the Daytona 500 in February.  Leading the field to green on a late restart, Ragan was penalized for changing lanes before he crossed the start/finish line, ending his chances for a win.

Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne's hopes for a repeat at the track ended early on Lap 5.  A push from Brad Keselowski hooked him into the wall and ended his day.

Carl Edwards's day also ended early.  On Lap 23, he was hooked by his Roush Fenway teammate Greg Biffle.  Biffle slapped the outside wall; Edwards slid through the infield and smacked the inside wall hard.  Edwards came into the race with a 25-point lead in the series points standings, but finished 37th and relinquished the lead to Harvick.

Harvick now leads Edwards by five points.  Kyle Busch jumped two spots to third, ten points behind Harvick.  Kurt Busch (-16) is fourth.  Kenseth (-22) is fifth.  Jimmie Johnson (-22) got caught up in the last-lap melees and finished 20th, dropping him three spots to sixth in the standings.  Earnhardt (-52) is seventh, followed by Gordon (-67), Clint Bowyer (-81) and Newman (-88).  With just nine races left before the Chase, Hamlin has closed to within three points of tenth.  Tony Stewart is just four points behind Newman now.  (Points standings)

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