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David Ragan avoids road to ruin at Daytona

He stays out of trouble in wild, crash-plagued finish to win Coke Zero 400, his first Sprint Cup victory.

July 02, 2011|By George Diaz
  • David Ragan won at the track where he wasted a chance to win Daytona 500 in February.
David Ragan won at the track where he wasted a chance to win Daytona 500 in… (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images )

After a relatively caution-free evening, the scramble to win forced two green-white checkered finishes. The most dramatic was a 15-car pileup, wreckage brought on by restrictor-plate madness.

David Ragan, driving a Ford, became a first-time Sprint Cup winner, as he avoided the crunch of bumper cars at the end. Matt Kenseth finished second, followed by Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne.

"This is fun, what better place to do it than Daytona?" Ragan said. "We've been so close so many times. Finally, we're here."

Call it a ride of redemption for Ragan, who blew a chance to win the Daytona 500 in February when, late in the race, he was penalized for passing too early.

Ragan's victory was powered by another Roush Fenway Racing Ford — Kenseth's car. They two stayed connected throughout the race, a necessary function of the tandem, "love-bug" racing style. They were fortunate, too, never to be forced to part, given the quirky dynamics of the race.

"I guess I feel like the second luckiest guy here," Kenseth said.

"They were loyal to each other all day," Logano said.

Ragan hit the finish line as another flurry of cars got caught up in the scramble to win, but the caution didn't come out because they weren't part of the lead pack.

On the first green-white checkered finish — a two-lap sprint — Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin were the first pair out of the gate, but that run didn't last long. Logano and Mark Martin got mixed up, sending a bunch of cars spinning sideways and sparks flying on the tri-oval.

The first try came after another mishap with four laps to go. Jeff Gordon — paired with pole leader Martin — got caught up in a crowded crunch of cars after Kahne slid over and hit his front bumper.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were paired, but that didn't work out either after Johnson pitted when the caution came out following Gordon's mishap. Earnhardt finished 19th, Johnson 20th.

The race produced 57 lead changes and 25 leaders — a track record.

It was a painfully quick night for Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne. He was driving the lead car in a two-car pack in front of Brad Keselowski when he spun out and hit the outside wall on the fifth lap. The damage was deemed beyond repair.

gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

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