David Ragan nears the finish line to win at Talladega. (Jared C. Tilton / Associated…)
If you're not familiar with David Ragan, who won the NASCAR race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, or his teammate David Gilliland, who pushed him to the finish line, that's quite understandable.
You've also likely not heard of their team owner, Bob Jenkins, because his Front Row Motorsports is one of NASCAR's little guys, a team that operates on a shoestring relative to the powerhouse teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing that employ the sport's marquee drivers.
Jenkins is a millionaire Tennessean who owns more than 100 franchised Taco Bell and Long John Silver's restaurants and who also happens to be nuts about stock-car racing.
So he's poured many of his millions into fielding his Ford team, which also includes driver Josh Wise. But because Front Row doesn't draw the added sponsorship money that the big teams enjoy, Jenkins and his drivers often have to do with less.
While the elite Sprint Cup Series teams spend $20 million or more per car each year, Jenkins has to get by on $6 million to $7 million. So his team sometimes enters used cars, races on scuffed-up tires and pinches pennies on testing.
And Jenkins had done so for nine long years without a win in NASCAR's premier Cup series.
"I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd win one of these things," Jenkins said after he jubilantly celebrated with Ragan's crew members in Victory Lane. "It's just so satisfying to see that over the last nine years, every year we've gotten a little bit better."
It would be easy to chalk up Ragan's win to the fact they were racing at Talladega, where the cars stay bunched together and even long shots have a chance. Or to the fact that two gigantic wrecks Sunday knocked out many of the contenders.
But in the near darkness Sunday, Ragan and Gilliland shot past some of NASCAR's most famous names, including five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, former champion Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and several others.
Ragan, Gilliland and Jenkins turned out to be the little engines that could.
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