In NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500, Ragan, driving the No. 6 Ford Fusion for Roush-Fenway Racing, was in contention late before incurring an ill-timed penalty for changing lanes ahead of the start/finish line sent him to the back of the field. But history did not repeat itself in the season's second race at Daytona, with Ragan persevering through two green-white-checkered finishes to claim his first Sprint Cup victory in 163 starts.
Trevor Bayne, hoping for a repeat of his eye-raising winning performance in the 500-mile opener at the country's most famous restrictor-plate track back in February, was never a factor on Saturday, despite starting out on the outside of the front row. Bayne didn't make it five laps, when a push from Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Dodge sent him spinning into the outside wall in Turn 1. His night was done at that point.
Like Ragan, Bayne's win in the first week of the season was his first career win in Cup racing. On this occasion, however, Bayne drew the dubious distinction of recording the worst finish in Daytona's midseason race for the winner of the Daytona 500 that same season. The 20-year-old driver for Wood Brothers Racing, ended up 41st in the 43-car field on Saturday.
Ragan can be thankful for the winning push he got from his Roush-Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth, who already has two Sprint Cup wins this season, that enabled him to capture the victory under caution when the sixth and final yellow flag came out on the tenth lap of overtime. Ragan, in the lead at the time of the final caution, was declared the winner, with Kenseth second and Joey Logano of Joe Gibbs Racing third. Another Joe Gibbs driver, Kyle Busch, came in fifth, immediately behind Kasey Kahne.
"It's a good feeling to come back here. It would have been tough to lose another one," Ragan said after the race in his first trip to Victory Lane. "I might not leave Daytona. I might just stay down here for a few days," he mused.
Ragan is the third first-time winner this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the 12th different race winner in the 17 thus far this year.
While Ragan's first career Cup win, on one hand, was a celebratory time for everyone at Roush-Fenway, the race victory was uncontrollably tempered by the disastrous results encountered by the team's lead driver and points-standings leader, Carl Edwards. If you didn't know better, you could argue that Edwards, a native of Columbia, Mo., and Bayne were under the same curse in Saturday's race, only Edwards was able to endure his track miscomings quite a bit longer than his younger competitor.
Edwards came into Saturday's race at Daytona with a 25-point lead in the race for the Chase standings over second-place Kevin Harvick, who has a season-best three Cup wins. By the end of the night, though, Edwards' points lead was history. His trouble began early in the race, on Lap 23, when he collided with teammate Greg Biffle while trying to avoid contact with Kurt Busch and Regan Smith. Edwards' No, 99 car spun and made contact with Biffle's front bumper before careening into the inside wall in Turn 4.
The wall impact reportedly broke the crush panels on the No, 99 car, sending Edwards to the garage for repairs. Edwards was forced to make several other pit stops to take care of residual problems resulting from his Lap 23 wreck, from which he was never really able to recover. He ended the forgettable night in 37th place, his worst finish of the year after ten top-10s and six top-five finishes in 17 starts, 26 laps down from the leaders.
Ironically, Bayne and Edwards finished one-two in their previous visit to Daytona this season.
"Carl and I just got caught up racing too hard, too early," Biffle said. "He was loose off of (lap) four, and he darted to the top. He moved so fast, and I tried to follow him and his car was loose and spun out. It's unfortunate, but it was a good night for our company (Roush-Fenway)."
Edwards and fellow Kansas City-area NASCAR favorite, Clint Bowyer from Emporia, Kan., finished close together again, as they have in a number of Sprint Cup races this season. Only this time it was in the back and not the front of the field.
Bowyer, who started third on the grid, was in fairly good position well past the halfway mark Saturday night at Daytona - he actually was out front of the field twice (laps 98-99 and 122 - but the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was involved in a massive 10-car wreck on lap 163 that ended things and sent Bowyer to his worst finish of the season, 36th, right ahead of Edwards.
In a somewhat unusual order of finish, Ford captured the first two positions in the Coke Zero 400 final results, followed by four Chevrolet Impala's and another Ford in tenth. The race featured a record 57 lead change involving 25 different drivers.
With Harvick coming in seventh at Daytona and Edwards finishing all the way back in 37th, Harvick bumped Edwards out of the points lead and took a five-point advantage with nine races left before the 10-race, season-ending Chase for the Cup Championship. Kyle Busch moved up two places to third, ten points back. Bowyer dropped from eighth to ninth, seven points better than tenth-place Ryan Newman.
The top ten points leaders after 26 races automatically qualify for the Chase for the Cup. The final two positions in the 12-car field will go to the two drivers among the 11th through 20th finishers in the standings with the most Sprint Cup wins in 2011. As of today, that would be David Ragan and one other driver yet to be determined.
Week 18 will find the Sprint Cup field in Sparta, Ky., at Kentucky Speedway, one of the new tracks added to the schedule for 2011, for another Saturday night under the lights in the Quaker State 400.