David Ragan grabs first career Cup win in the Coke Zero 400
by Matt Taliaferro
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been the year of first-time winners. Trevor Bayne stunned the sport with an unlikely win in the Daytona 500. Regan Smith followed suit at Darlington in Southern 500, and in the circuit’s return trip to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400, David Ragan celebrated his first career Cup win on the Fourth of July weekend.
Ragan’s win was a dose of redemption at the speedway where a late-race penalty cost him a shot at a Daytona 500 win just five months earlier. In that race, Ragan led the field to a green-white-checker restart. However, he changed lanes prior to crossing the start/finish line in an attempt to draft with Bayne. The resulting pass-through penalty dropped him from the lead to a heart-breaking 14th-place showing.
Saturday’s mid-summer classic at Daytona took on many of the same characteristics as the February edition, with two-car drafting and an overtime finish highlighting the evening. The first green-white-checker attempt came when NASCAR threw a caution flag with three laps to go when Jeff Gordon slid sideways in Turn 4, although he saved the car and no others were damaged.
The tandem of Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin led Ragan and teammate Matt Kenseth to the green. Ragan and Kenseth nosed into the lead as nearly a dozen cars wrecked coming out of Turn 2, dashing the hopes of Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, among others.
Ragan and Kenseth led the pack of survivors to green for the second green-white-checker finish. On this try, the field made it one and a half laps before the wrecking started again. Five cars were collected in an accident in Turn 3, while another crash broke out involving eight cars as the pack entered the tri-oval with the checkered flag in the air.
Through it all, Kenseth never left Ragan’s bumper, and the duo crossed the finish line first and second, edging Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, who finished third and fourth.
“We made a pact with our teammate, Matt Kenseth, that we’re going to work together through thick or thin,” Ragan said. “I was a little worried about that, too. Sometimes falling to the back and to the front, you get jammed up throughout the race, so I didn't know if that was the right decision or not. But bottom line, our car was fast. That's what wins these races. You've got to have luck, you've got to have pit stops and all that stuff goes into effect. But you've got to have a fast car, and our UPS Ford was fast.”
The teammates did work together through thick and thin, and when they found themselves nose-to-tail coming to the checkers with the field in their rearview mirrors, they remained in line.
“If I would have made a move on David, Joey (Logano) would have passed us both or we all would have wrecked or something — something would have happened,” Kenseth said. “So when I came off (turn) four, and I looked to see where Joey was, I could see he had good speed. I could see he was being pushed. Me and David were on the same radio and I wasn't standing on the yellow line. I'm going to keep pushing you. I'm not going to leave you and try to pass you, because I knew that one of us weren't going to win.”
Carl Edwards lost the points lead after an accident on lap 24 relegated him to a 37th-place finish. Kevin Harvick, who finished seventh, inherited the lead in the championship standings, sitting five points ahead of Edwards. Ragan joins Hamlin as driver ranked 11th-20th with wins that could qualify them for the Chase via wild card slots that award race-winners.