Ragan got a push from Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland to the front on the final lap of a green-white-checker finish and won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Aaron’s 499, picking up his second career victory and first on Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval.
“I’m kind of a low-key guy, but, man, I don’t know,” Ragan said. “First off, I’ve got to thank the Lord. Without Him nothing is possible.”
At Talladega, one of NASCAR’s two restrictor-plate tracks and a place where the field runs wide-open, just about anything is possible. That includes acts of God.
Sunday’s race covered seven hours, thanks to a near-four-hour rain delay. A caution flag came out on lap 124, just as pole-sitter Carl Edwards nudged a half-car ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and NASCAR red-flagged the race.
Track officials sent the jet dryers out after the first rain cell passed. As they were working, another rain cell formed south of the speedway and moved north.
The second cell soaked the track and brought out the dryers for a second run. At 5:30 p.m., NASCAR officials announced the race would resume at 6 p.m.
Drivers retook the track to finish out the caution, ending a red-flag period of 3 hours, 36 minutes and 6 seconds.
Had NASCAR black-flagged a race that was two-thirds finished, Edwards would have won.
“I was pretty frustrated about that,” Edwards said. “I was kind of really hoping for (more) rain.”
The race’s dramatic finish also generated controversy, with Brad Keselowski taking to Twitter to claim that Ragan started the green-white-checker finish in the wrong lane after caution from a lap-184 crash.
“Mad as hell about that finish,” Keselowski tweeted. “We were supposed to line up 10 when the 34 (Ragan) entering (turn) 3 before green. That lane won.”
Ragan answered forcefully during the postrace news conference.
“I knew that we were probably a little higher than what we should be because we were running 20th or so when that wreck happened, and we made it through, so they (NASCAR) adjusted the lineup. … So, NASCAR says that on the radio. They tell the spotters, tell the crew chiefs, so the 95 (Scott Speed) pulls up," he said.
“Well, obviously, Brad wanted to start on the outside because he knew the same thing that I knew, that the outside lane had an advantage on the restart. Well, he just didn’t want to listen to NASCAR.
“So, NASCAR makes the call on where we line up and, and I listened to what NASCAR has to say.”
The last of five cautions came out on lap 184, when Stenhouse went high, causing four-wide racing on the backstretch. He attempted to correct and bumped J.J. Yeley, sending him down the track and setting off a chain reaction.
Kurt Busch's car rolled on its roof and lifted, coming down on Ryan Newman’s hood. In all, 12 cars were involved in the day’s second-largest wreck.
“They can build safer race cars. They can build safer walls,” Newman said. “But they can’t get their heads out of their (butts) far enough to keep them on the track, and that’s pretty disappointing.”
NASCAR announced the green-white-checker finish during the resulting caution. At the time, the top three were fall Talladega winner Matt Kenseth, Edwards and Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson.
On the final lap, Gilliland got a drafting push from Michael Waltrip, driving the University of Alabama national championship-themed car, through the center and picked up Ragan’s back end.
Ragan used the push from Gilliland to split Johnson and Kenseth, who had led a race-best 142 laps.
Once established in the lead, Ragan first went to block Kenseth high then Johnson low and separated for the victory.
“I sure wouldn’t want to have to line up and have to do it again. … I saw him (Kenseth) right in front of me, so I decided to stick with him," Ragan said. "I thought that maybe we could get a good run and race for the win coming out of turn 4, but I didn’t know at the time … the 38 of David Gilliland was hooked to my rear bumper.”
Gilliland pushed through for second place, followed by Edwards.
“Well, I was trying to beat him for sure, but we had to get there first,” Gilliland said. “Once I pushed him out to the lead, the 99 (Edwards) was on my side there, and David had kind of got out enough of a lead that I wasn’t going to pass him, and then, at that point, I was just obviously trying to finish second. “
The day’s biggest wreck occurred on lap 43, when Kasey Kahne went up to pass Johnson and wound up in front of Kyle Busch on the charging outside line. Busch hooked Kahne’s back end, sending Kahne into the wall in turn one and touching off a 16-car spinoff that stretched to the front of the Allison Grandstand.
The crash ended Kahne’s day after he had been running third, behind Kenseth and Johnson.
Johnson finished fifth and ended the day as he started, atop the Cup points standings. He leads Edwards by 41 points.
“We had a very fast car, and I felt like we were a player all day long,” said Johnson, who never led but ran second for long stretches. “That’s awesome.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.