David Ragan took a shock victory for First Row Motorsports in a rain-interrupted Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The victory came as Ragan received help from team-mate David Gilliland in a green-white-checker situation, pushing the #34 Ford to the front to score Front Row Motorsports’ first Sprint Cup victory and a career second victory for Ragan.
“This is a true David vs. Goliath moment,” said Ragan. “I’ve got to thank my teammates. If it wasn’t for that final push from David Gilliland, I don’t know what to say. They’re not all this easy, but this is special to get Front Row Motorsports their first win. It feels like I’ve never been here before.”
Matt Kenseth led the field round to the final green flag of the race in near darkness after a rain delay lasting more than three hours. Off the restart, Carl Edwards drove past Kenseth to take the white flag, only to be passed by the two Front Row Motorsports machines and finish in third position.
The final caution came courtesy of the second big accident of the evening, with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. getting into the wall before hitting JJ Yeley, who in turn hit Kurt Busch, causing Busch’s car to flip and roll on to the roof of Ryan Newman‘s car.
“They can build safer racecars, they can build safer walls but they can’t get their head out of their asses,” said a furious Newman after the accident. “That’s no way to restart a race, running in the dark, running in the rain. They got what they wanted.”
The first “Big One” of the day came courtesy of Kyle Busch, who took complete blame for starting a 16-car melee which saw big names such as Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick and Jamie McMurray involved, as well as Brian Vickers, who had just taken over control of the car from a returning Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was racing in his first Sprint Cup event since injuring his back in a last-lap crash at Kansas.
Kenseth dominated the race, leading 142 of the 192 laps, but, despite leading the field off of the final caution, could only manage to finish the race in eighth position.
The race was put under caution on lap 122 for rain and was subsequently red flagged three laps later. The red flag period lasted for 3 hours and 36 minutes, seeing the race restarted shortly before 7pm.
The drivers knew the rain was coming, and after around 110 laps of single file racing, drivers started dicing for the lead, just in case rain saw the race given a result early. Edwards took the lead from Stenhouse on lap 122, almost exactly as NASCAR threw the caution for the rain.
At the chequered flag, Michael Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five, meaning Johnson stays at the top of the Sprint Cup points standings, 41 points ahead of Edwards with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who could only manage a 17th place finish at Talladega, in third.