David Ragan Wins Thriller At Talladega
Sprint Cup: Typical Talladega finish
Sunday was another crazy day at Talladega, which comes as no surprise.
Airborne cars and shocking wrecks that border on madness. Seven hours, mostly just waiting, before the race ends in virtual darkness. And NASCAR decisions that came under question as to whether the right thing was done.
Despite all that, the sport's most dangerous track produced one redeeming result: A driver and team that have almost no chance of winning anywhere else end up in Victory Lane.
In all its volatility and chaos, Talladega Superspeedway is the great equalizer, making contenders out of the pretenders who usually are just along for the ride.
Seeing the genuine joy and exuberance that David Ragan and his team showed after winning has to make you smile -- a "David beating Goliath moment," as Ragan called it.
Ragan gave Front Row Motorsports team owner Bob Jenkins his first victory. Teammate David Gilliland, who finished second, pushed Ragan to the front through the darkness.
It was a magical ending for a driver and an organization that needed a break. But it came after a long day of decisions some drivers questioned.
Rain brought out a red flag with 63 laps remaining in the 188-lap event. A race needs to complete just half the laps to become official, but to their credit, NASCAR officials wanted to try to complete the event.
However, it was more than three and a half hours before the race restarted. Most of the people in the grandstands had left when the green flag flew. And the 6:05 p.m. CT restart meant darkness might come before the race was finished.
"That's no way to end a race," Newman said on the Fox telecast. "That's just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment. I mean, you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That's it, thank you."
Brad Keselowski also had issues with a NASCAR decision at the end, believing league officials allowed Ragan to restart where Keselowski thought he should have started at the green-white-checkered final restart.
"Me thinks if someone looked at what happened on that restart they might feel differently about that finish," Keselowski wrote on Twitter. "Mad as hell about that finish.
"We were supposed to line up 10th when the 34 [Ragan] switched lanes entering [Turn] 3 before green. That lane won.
"I'm happy as hell a small team won. Doesn't change the fact that the restart was blatantly wrong.''
Martin Truex Jr. agreed with Keselowski on Twitter, but many people didn't.
"Some people just can't handle facts,'' Keselowski tweeted. "Watch full in-car camera replays and judge for yourself guys."
Whoever you believe, it was nice to see the underdog win, an underfunded team finishing on top against the mega-rich super organizations of NASCAR.
Talladega, with all its flaws, can do that sometimes. But this was a race that ended in the dark, in more ways than one for some drivers.
Ragan's David Vs. Goliath Moment
Nationwide: Controversy swirls
It was the kind of race ending fans dream of seeing -- three-wide as the cars crossed the finish line. Only one problem: It didn't count.
The last lap of the Nationwide Series race Saturday was Talladega at its best, and its worst.
But this time, NASCAR officials turned on the caution lights a couple of seconds before the leaders reached the finish line. When the yellow was displayed, Smith was a few inches ahead of Logano and Kahne still was third.
So by rule, the race was over and Smith was the winner. But NASCAR's decision makes this outcome controversial.
In recent years, NASCAR usually has allowed the leaders to reach the finish line before throwing the caution if the cars were wrecking behind them. That didn't happen this time, but Talladega's unique finish line probably was a factor.
The frontstretch on the giant 2.66-mile oval is the longest in the sport. NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. placed the finish line down toward Turn 1 so the race wouldn't end before thousands of people in those grandstands seats could see it, making those seats easier to sell.
If the finish line was at the middle of the tri-oval, as it is at other speedways, Smith still would have won before the yellow came out because he would have reached the finish line slightly ahead of Logano.
The caution was displayed when the leaders were about 100 yards past the middle of the frontstretch, heading to the finish line. So at any other track, NASCAR officials would have done what they usually do and displayed the caution after the leaders crossed the finish line.
Obviously, Kahne didn't like the call, but it was the right thing to do. It also gave the victory to a Nationwide regular, only the second time that has happened in eight races this season.
Smith also leaves Talladega as the points leader, proving that all the changes made at JR Motorsports are paying off.
Team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller (Dale's sister) deserve enormous credit for turning the team around with some difficult decisions they made before this season began.
The Earnhardts parted way with Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr. last September. The Eurys weren't just employees, they are family. Eury Sr. is their uncle and Eury Jr. grew up with his cousins.
But Dale and Kelley felt they had to change the direction of the organization, bringing in Ryan Pemberton as a crew chief and team leader. The siblings also hired Smith to take over for Danica Patrick, who moved up to Cup full-time.
Now JR Motorsports has a legitimate shot at winning its first series championship. And maybe at some point down the road, JR Motorsports will be racing for a title in the Sprint Cup Series.
Camping World: Sauter's next test
Johnny Sauter has won half the Camping World Truck Series events this season and has finished in the top five in every race, but he's not No. 1 in the standings.
A NASCAR penalty dropped him back to No. 2, 13 points behind teammate Matt Crafton. An illegal fuel cell on the No. 98 Toyota at Kansas cost Sauter 25 points.
Time will tell how costly those points are as the season progresses. The Trucks are in the middle of a one-month break before returning to the track for the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 17.
Kyle Larson's victory at Rockingham last month was the only loss this season for ThorSport Racing. Sauter won the first two events and Crafton won at Kansas.
Crafton has four top-10s and an average finish of 4.5. Sauter's average finish is 2.7, so it's obvious ThorSport Racing is the team to beat in 2013. But plenty of drivers are capable of challenging Crafton and Sauter, including defending series champion James Buescher, who is sixth in the standings.
One of the fun things to watch in this series is all the talented young drivers on their way up. Jeb Burton, the 20-year-old son of Ward Burton, has been the surprise of the season so far. He has three top-10s (including two top-5s) and two poles, leaving him tied with Sauter for second in the standings.