On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Ragan was out front when caution flew on the 10th lap of overtime in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, giving the driver of the No. 6 Ford his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
At Daytona in February, Ragan gave away a chance to win the Daytona 500 when he changed lanes before the start/finish line on a restart and drew a penalty from NASCAR.
On Saturday, however, Ragan got a strong push from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth and won the race under caution when a massive wreck on the final lap brought out the final yellow flag.
Kenseth came home second, followed by Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya and AJ Allmendinger completed the top 10.
The race produced an event-record 57 lead changes among a track-record 25 drivers.
Ragan’s atonement couldn’t have come at a better time. In a contract year, with rumors swirling about a possible driver change in the No. 6 Ford and possible dissatisfaction on the part of sponsor UPS (also in a contract year), Ragan bulled his way into the mix for a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup while erasing some of the haunting memories from the 500.
“It’s a good feeling to come back here — we got one back at Daytona,” said Ragan, 25, who was making his 163rd Cup start. “It would have been tough to lose another one. I thought about that, actually, under that last caution (before the final restart). I said, ‘Man, if we don’t win this thing, I’m not going to talk to anyone afterward.’
“We were able to win, and that does ease the pain from February. It’s still nice to think about that Daytona 500 ring, but it’s awesome. This is a great race. It does ease the pain, and so we’ll think about this one a lot more than we’ll think about the Daytona 500.”
The fourth caution of the race, which flew on Lap 158 of the scheduled 160 for Jeff Gordon’s dramatic spin and save in Turn 4, set up the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, which got as far as Turn 2 before a massive 15-car wreck — triggered by contact between polesitter Mark Martin and Logano — brought out caution No. 5.
For another of Ragan’s teammates, Carl Edwards, the race was a disaster. Edwards entered the event with a 25-point lead in the Cup standings over second-place Harvick, but that didn’t survive the evening.
As Edwards and Greg Biffle were moving to the outside to avoid contact with the tandem of Kurt Busch and Regan Smith on Lap 23, Edwards’ Ford spun across Biffle’s bumper and slid into the inside wall off Turn 4.
The impact broke the crush panels on the right side of Edwards’ car, and when he returned to the track, he was breathing carbon monoxide from the car’s exhaust. By the time his crew had addressed that problem, Edwards was eight laps down.
Edwards finished 37th, 26 laps in arrears, and lost the points lead to Harvick, who now leads Edwards by five points and third-place Kyle Busch by 10.
The race wasn’t five laps old when it became obvious Trevor Bayne wouldn’t repeat as a Daytona winner in 2011. Pushed by Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Dodge, Bayne’s Ford spun in Turn 1 and nosed into the outside wall.
With his car crippled by the impact, Bayne, the surprise winner of the Daytona 500, dropped out of the race. The cars of Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and Bobby Labonte sustained damage during the incident, but only Labonte’s was severe enough to drop him from the lead lap.
Bayne, who started on the outside of the front row, drafted with Bowyer early on, but Bowyer left him to work with Burton, his Richard Childress Racing teammate.
“He dropped off to find the 31 (Burton), which we knew he was going to do, and as I was kind of falling through the field, we found the 2 car,” Bayne said. “He got to us and was pushing us down the frontstretch. I was still kind of lifting a little bit, letting him get to my bumper, and then I got back to the gas wide-open.
“I don’t know if I turned down more getting in or if he kind of came up across our bumper, but, either way, our bumpers caught wrong and it sent us spinning. You know that can happen here. It happens all the time, but it’s tough that it was our car.”