David Ragan stunned everybody when he shot through the middle to the lead with help from his teammate David Gilliland on the last lap of Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway. Whether you're a fan of Ragan or not, you had to be happy seeing him win that race.
Ragan was supposed to be the next star to come out of Roush-Fenway Racing when he was tabbed to replace Mark Martin. Things never really panned out though. He only scored one win while with RFR. That was at Daytona in July of 2011. At the end of 2011 he lost his ride at Roush-Fenway.
No top team picked up Ragan so he found a home at the low-budget Front Row Motorsports owned by Bob Jenkins. In 2012 and the beginning of this season you'd occasionally see Ragan run up near the front, but that was very rare. Ragan's best finish in 2013 before this weekend was a 20th place finish the week prior at Richmond.
But the draft at Talladega and Daytona is the great equalizer. As Larry McReynolds said all weekend long, "If you can start your car on Sunday, you're a favorite to win the race."
The best part about the finish on Sunday wasn't Ragan getting a win for himself, but Front Row Motorsports getting their first win as an organization. And they did so with a 1-2 finish because Gilliland finished right behind Ragan. This is a victory that everybody who works at Front Row will remember for a very long time.
Denny Hamlin started the race on Sunday at Talladega, but got out of the car at the first caution for Brian Vickers. It marked the first time that Hamlin started a race since he suffered a compression fracture in his back in a last-lap crash at the Auto Club Speedway in California on March 24th.
Hamlin stayed in the back of the pack to try to stay out of trouble and pretty much just survive until the first caution came out.
I have to take issue with this. I understand that Hamlin wanted to start the race to try to gain points so he can maybe climb out of this hole and make it into the Chase from a wild-card spot. I don't see that being a possibility at all. He currently sits 31st in points. If he could have somehow been lucky enough to find himself around 26th in points when he returned from his injury I would say that he maybe would have had a shot at it.
But not now. It's so unlikely at this point, that it would most likely be in his best interest to get the season-ending surgery to fix his issues so that he can be as close to healthy as possible for the rest of his life. Hamlin is a father now. He has responsibilities outside of racing for a championship for the first time in his life. He needs to make sure that he will be physically able to be there for her as she grows up.
I know, though, what the race car driver mentality is. They just want to be back in the race car. And I can't blame Hamlin for that. I understand why he's back in the car now and isn't going the surgical route. I wish he would go that route, but I understand why he won't. He's a racer and he's going to do what racers do. And that's race. But at the very least I hope that he skips the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in two weeks to take one more week of rest. It's not like that race really matters anyway.
Restrictor Plate Racing
There were two huge wrecks during the Aaron's 499 on Sunday. One early in the race and one with six laps remaining. The second one saw Kurt Busch barrel-roll down the backstretch and then land on top of Ryan Newman's car.
Newman, understandably, wasn't happy about it. Newman has never been a fan of restrictor plate racing. Outside of his 2008 Daytona 500 win, Newman has never had much success at Daytona or Talladega. He's been upside-down at both race tracks on more than one occasion, and he's also had cars land on top of his own on more than one occasion.
Until NASCAR decides to stop racing at Daytona or Talladega, we will see restrictor plates on these race cars. As unsafe as many feel the plates make the racing, without the plates we'd be seeing these cars hit 235mph. Theoretically NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. could knock the banking down at both race tracks. That would make the drivers have to use the brakes to make the turns rather than going flat-footed through the corners. But all that would do would produce two more tracks like Auto Club Speedway; a place that most fans hate.
There's one saying that sums up the racing at Daytona and Talladega quite well: It is what it is.