David Ragan celebrates in victory lane after winning at Talladega Superspeedway… (Sean Gardner / Getty Images )
Had the rain lingered a bit longer in central Alabama, Bob Jenkins and his Front Row Motorsports team might still be looking for their first win in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
Instead, they're now the little NASCAR team that could.
Front Row's David Ragan, exploiting a push from teammate David Gilliland, won Sunday's race in near darkness at Talladega Superspeedway after a 31/2-hour rain delay. Gilliland, who grew up in Riverside, finished second.
It was the first time in nine years of trying that Jenkins' team, which operates on a shoestring compared with powerhouse teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, reached Victory Lane in a Cup race.
Jenkins, his drivers and their crews celebrated as though they had just captured a season's championship.
"I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd win one of these things," Jenkins said. "It's just so satisfying to see that over the last nine years, every year we've gotten a little bit better."
It hasn't been easy. Jenkins is a millionaire Tennessean who owns more than 100 Taco Bell and Long John Silver's restaurants and who's also passionate about stock car racing.
He has poured many of his millions into fielding his Ford team, which also includes driver Josh Wise.
But that's not nearly enough to keep pace with the budgets of the big teams. And because Front Row's drivers seldom finish near the front row, Jenkins also can't attract the amount of corporate sponsorship money that the big teams enjoy.
While the elite Cup teams spend $20 million or more per car each year, Jenkins has to get by on $6 million to $7 million.
So Jenkins and his drivers do with less. They sometimes enter used cars, race on scuffed-up tires, fly commercial, skip test sessions and, at times, race cars lacking a primary sponsor.
At other times Jenkins has signed unusual sponsors to pay the bills.
At Las Vegas last year, for example, the main sponsor of Ragan's No. 34 Ford was "Rick Santorum for President." Ragan's sponsor Sunday was Farm Rich, a maker of frozen snack foods.
This was Ragan's second Cup win; his first came in 2011 when he worked for Roush Fenway. And it would be easy to chalk up Ragan's latest win to the fact they were at Talladega, where the cars stay bunched together and even longshots have a chance, or that two huge wrecks knocked out many contenders.
But even with the thinned field, Ragan and Gilliland had to shoot past some of NASCAR's most famous names, including five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, former champion Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
"It's a huge day, obviously, for any team to get first and second," Gilliland said, "but for Front Row Motorsports and our little team, and what we do it with, we're really proud of that."