Sunday’s epic 499-mile race on the 2.66-mile tri-oval at Talladega Superspeedway was a complex mix of multi-car crashes, rain delays and high-tech machinery.
It took two Davids to beat NASCAR Goliaths, and it took several Air-Titans to tame Mother Nature.
Owing to a green-white-checker finish, the Aaron’s 499, a 188-lap race, took 192 laps (about 510 miles) to complete.
During the final laps, teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland surged from the hungry pack of Gen-6 stock cars to claim first and second place at the start-finish line. Both are members of Front Row Motorsports, a small three-car NASCAR Sprint Cup team.
Winner David Regan was quick to make an ancient comparison.
“This is a true David vs. Goliath moment here,” Ragan said. “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.”
Ragan and Gilliland went around the well-funded drivers for Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing to claim their victory. These established teams have solid sponsorships, some forged over many NASCAR seasons. But Front Row Motorsports is owned by Tennessee restaurateur Bob Jenkins and is primarily funded in-house.
This first win by FRM is a huge milestone that can help the team obtain more sponsorships going forward.
Two spectacular multi-car crashes delayed the race, which had been moved up by several minutes to avoid imminent rain showers. The "Big One,” as it’s known in Talladega-land, happened twice: once because Kyle Busch tapped Kasey Kahne and collected more than a dozen cars and again near the end when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made a move in traffic that wiped out some more cars.
The Big One became the “Long One” too. Twice, heavy rain soaked the wide track with 33 degree banking. Normally NASCAR’s longest track takes about three hours to dry with jet-dryers. New Air-Titan track-drying technology, which was previously brought out this year in Daytona, was put to use at Talladega.
Media members complained that it wasn’t working fast enough, but cold temperatures and heavy rains added to the drying time. Air-Titans use compressed air to blow water off the track for collection.
The final drying time was more than two hours, but still less than the drying time that jet-dryers would have accomplished. Without the Air-Titans, the race would have likely been called for darkness and more impending showers.
All in all, it was a long day for fans, drivers, teams, workers and media, but after eight hours or so, the checkered flag waved.
David Regan, a Daytona winner, was thrilled to be in the Victory Lane.
“You win these Sprint Cup races and you never want to be a guy that never wins one,” Ragan said. “You win one and you don’t want to be that guy that just wins one, you want to win two and win three. We love this place. Front Row Motorsports puts a little emphasis coming to Daytona and Talladega. The draft is a big equalizer and anything can happen.
"Our Farm Rich Ford was fast. We made the right pit calls all day. Our pit crew was flawless, and we were just in the right place at the right time. I had a great teammate. David Gilliland gave us a great push. I owe him a lot.”
David Gilliland described the bold and anxious move that gave the tiny team a gigantic win.
“I got hooked up with my teammate there,” Gilliland said. “Michael Waltrip got behind me and was giving me a great shove, and I had some good momentum and got hooked up with Ragan there and just stayed glued to his bumper and kind of worked our way up through there and came home 1-2 for Front Row Motorsports.
"It’s a huge day obviously for any team to get first and second, but for Front Row Motorsports and our little team, and what we do it with, we’re really proud of that.”
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)
Jimmie Johnson had a good day with his fifth-place finish and has a comfortable 41-point lead going into Darlington.
“The No. 34 (David Regan) and the No. 38 (David Gilliland) came up on us so fast that I could see Carl (Edwards) trying to block, and he finally said there’s no real way to block the speed that they’re bringing. Those two had blown by and David had made it back to the checkered flag. So it’s really cool for that team.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoided crashing and came in 17th place, but he moved up in the standings to third place. Kasey Kahne dropped three spots with his DNF.
“We were on that inside lane and weren’t going forward. We were going backwards. Everybody was going by on the outside, and when it’s three- and four-wide, you can’t really go up.
“We didn’t have a car that I felt comfortable with. We just didn’t have a good car all day.
Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway Racing)
Carl Edwards maintained his second position in the points standings with his third-place finish at Talladega, but had NASCAR called the race after the last rain delay, he would have won.
“David did everything but wreck me,” Edwards said. “He did everything right, and I still thought he was gonna wreck when he was looking in his mirror and he almost hit the apron and he wiggled coming to the line, so I thought we still might get this thing. But it’s awesome for David Ragan.
"We were gonna win the race if it rained, and then I thought we were still gonna win this thing, and it just wasn’t meant to be. But it’s the most fun I’ve had at Talladega.”
NSCS drivers and teams are off to “kiss the walls” at Darlington next week. The fast 1.366-mile track with wicked turns is known for inevitable wrecking and banging.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.