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Sprint Cup Recap — Aaron’s 499

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The David vs. Goliath metaphor is one we use a lot in sports, but when trying to describe the final results of this week’s Sprint Cup Series race, nothing else seems appropriate.

David Ragan won the seven-hour, rain-delayed, Aaron’s 499 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway after a green-white-checkered dash to the finish.

His Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Gilliland finished second in what could easily be classified as the most unexpected finish in the history of NASCAR.

The conditions at the end of the race could be described as precarious…or just flat-out crazy.  It was dark and Talladega has no lights.  The television cameras, as pointed out by the FOX broadcast team, were clearly showing the speedway in a much brighter version of itself.  It was sprinkling, and depending on what part of the track you were standing in, it was raining.  A second version of, “The Big One,” left speedy-dry across the inside of the backstretch and turn 3.

Regan and Gilliland restarted 10th and 11th respectively during the final 2-lap dash.  They hooked up after the green flag, and it seemed like fate did the rest.  Michael Waltrip pushed the duo ahead through turns 1 and 2.  Matt Kenseth moved ahead of Ragan, allowing him to get an even bigger run.  Then, Kenseth ducked away, presumably leaving the small-fish for a bigger one.

It was the Talladega version of the Red Sea parting.

The teammates shot through the gap and into turns 3 & 4, with Ragan receiving a final herculean shove from Gilliland through the tri-oval and towards the finish line for his second career victory & the first for the overlooked Front Row Motorsports team.

“I can only imagine what it felt like back in 1988 when Mark Martin got that first win for Jack Roush or when Geoff Bodine won that first race for Hendrick Motorsports,” Ragan said.  “I’m sure it was just as special.”

It can’t be overstated how much a finish like this means to a team like Front Row Motorsports.  The first place and second place checks at a race like Talladega will provide them around the same, if not more than they were able to scratch together out of their first 9 races combined.

And Regan, who’s only other victory came at Daytona in July 2011, doesn’t just get a win.  He gets a signature win.  A career defining win.  In a sport dominated by big teams and huge corporate sponsors, we’ll always look back with fondness when it comes to Regan’s win at Talladega.

Aside from the fairytale ending, the race had all the usual bumps and bruises that come along with a restrictor plate race.  There were two huge crashes that took out a lot of the top cars in the field.  Out of the 43 cars that started the race, there were probably 10 left without some sort of damage at the end.  Only 19 cars finished on the lead lap

But, today isn’t a day to talk about the what ifs of NASCAR’s elite.  It’s a day to celebrate the roots of the sport.  The idea that a small team, without a lot of money or support, can come to the biggest racetrack in the world and win at the highest level of stock car racing.

The backdrop in Victory Lane bore the words, “Dreams Come True At Talladega.”

Boy is that an understatement.

Here’s what we learned at Talladega:

1. David Ragan won’t gain anything from this.  Technically we learned this from Trevor Bayne’s remarkable win at the Daytona 500 in 2011.  Not too long ago, a win in the 500 guaranteed you a full time sponsor & ride in the cup series for years.  Trevor has had a hard time finding sponsors even for his Nationwide Series car.  I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not expecting any major changes to the status quo.

2. Talladega should have a night race.  Daytona has one, so why shouldn’t Talladega?  On back-to-back days the track faced the same issue: no lights.  With the long cautions prompted by the large-scale wrecks at restrictor plate tracks, seemingly never-ending races will be the result.  Even if Dega doesn’t get a night race, it still needs lights.

3. Superspeedways produce the best racing.  I’m a short track apologist.  I think NASCAR should run on as many as they can cram into the schedule.  But, not at the sacrifice of Superspeedway racing.  The last lap drama and unpredictable nature of the racing at Daytona and Talladega is unmatched anywhere else in the sport.  And I love it.

Tommy Joe Martins is a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver & a weekly racer at the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he’s been a sports columnist for Guy Speed Sports, a radio host & a life-long NASCAR fan.

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