Rain and wrecks pushed NASCAR to the edge of darkness Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where three of the biggest names in the sport led the field to the final flag.
NASCAR was giving it one final go to get the rain-delayed race wrapped up, and Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson were at the head of the pack for the two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.
None of them ever saw David Ragan coming.
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Heck, Ragan barely even saw teammate David Gilliland hook onto his rear bumper. But Gilliland locked up with Ragan for that last-gasp push to the finish and the Front Row Motorsports drivers sliced their way to the front and put Ragan into Victory Lane for the tiny organization’s first victory.
“This is a true David versus Goliath moment here,” Ragan said.
It was the second career victory for Ragan — he also won at Daytona in July 2011 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing — and Gilliland finished second for a 1-2 finish for Front Row Motorsports.
“I wouldn’t want to line up and have to do it again,” said Ragan, who didn’t realize Gilliland was pushing him until he exited Turn 2 on the last lap. “That gave me a little extra confidence … that I could make the right moves and I knew that he was going to stick with me. I had a great teammate. David Gilliland gave us a great push. I owe him a lot. I’ll definitely buy him lunch this week or something.”
The victory came a day after Regan Smith won the Nationwide Series race and Ragan was flooded with misfired congratulatory messages on Twitter.
“All fans- please send all congrats to @ReganSmith. Not this Ragan….. He is the Winner today!! Haha,” he tweeted Saturday night.
Now Ragan has his own win — just in time to qualify for the Sprint All-Star race in two weeks.
Gilliland wanted the win but was content settling for second on a day his team earned its first victory.
“What a great day for Front Row Motorsports, an underfunded team coming in here and being able to finish 1-2 is awesome,” Gilliland said. “I’m very proud of David Ragan. I know he would have done the same for me. I had a heck of a run, we were pushing, I was locked to his bumper and I wasn’t going to let him go.”
The race took seven hours to complete after rain stopped it for 3 hours, 36 minutes midway through the event. With darkness quickly closing in, contact between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and J.J. Yeley triggered a frightening crash that sent Kurt Busch’s car airborne and on top of Ryan Newman’s car.
Hinchcliffe wins Sao Paulo 300
On the final turn of the final lap, James Hinchcliffe finally saw an opening — and made sure he squeezed into it.
Hinchcliffe made a last-ditch move on Takuma Sato, going past the Japanese driver on the inside of the last bend to win IndyCar’s Sao Paulo 300.
The Canadian was barely even sure that Sato was finally behind him by the time the checkered flag went down in front of him.
“I don’t think I was sure until after we crossed the line,” said Hinchcliffe, who earned his second victory of the season and his career.
“I didn’t think we had it. It wasn’t really until I crossed the line that I realized, ‘We got it!’”
The Canadian, also the winner in the opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., moved from third to second with three laps to go and then dueled with Sato before finally making the gutsy move as right before the finish at the Anhembi street track.
Sato, coming off his first career victory two weeks ago in Long Beach, drove in too hard for the hairpin at the end of the long back straight and gave just enough space for Hinchcliffe to get past.
“To win a race on the last corner of the last lap is one of the coolest feelings,” Hinchcliffe said. “To make a last-corner pass, that’s something I’ll remember for a long time. Takuma was making that race car really wide and he was defending the inside pretty well.” He just outbroke himself just a little bit and I was able to do a high-low (pass) and got the win.”
Sato had successfully defended the lead from Hinchcliffe on two other occasions during the final laps but couldn’t hang on at the end with older tires.
“I think I tried everything I could to defend,” Sato said. “I was really struggling on the grip the last laps. I really had to deal with a lot of things. The last few laps were great fun from a driver’s point of view. It’s a real pity that I lost it on the final lap of the race on the final corner.”
The last Canadian to win in Brazil was Greg Moore in 1998.
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