Sunday, May 5, 2013

CUP EXTRA: David Ragan Gives Front Row Motorsports Its First Win

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin'

Sunday’s race was won by David Ragan in the #34 Farm Rich Ford with a thrilling last-lap push from Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland.  It was Ragan’s second Cup Series win, his first since he pulled the #6 UPS Ford into victory lane after the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

It was a tremendous victory not only for Ragan, but also for the fledgling three-car team that has been frequently featured on this site over the last five seasons.  It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Bob Jenkins and team on their win and to discuss the history of this underdog team.

Front Row Motorsports joined the Sprint Cup tour in 2005, fielding a #92 Chevrolet for Stanton Barrett at Bristol that year.  The team was owned by Bob Jenkins - of no relation to the ESPN commentator with the same name - and started just a handful of races over the next three seasons, employing underdogs like Tony Raines, Hermie Sadler, and Carl Long.

In 2008, the team made its first start in the Daytona 500 when John Andretti muscled the #34 Makoto’s Chevrolet into the field with a last-lap charge in the Gatorade Duels.  Brian Simo turned in an equally-inspiring qualifying run at Sonoma that June, bumping three fully-funded teams out of the field with a year-old “car of tomorrow” chassis.  Simo’s #34 No Fear Energy Ford finished last that day when the transmission broke after 20 laps.

In 2009, Andretti ran the full season in the team’s flagship #34 Taco Bell Chevrolet, earning a season-best 16th-place run at Loudon on June 28.  Jenkins added a “start-and-park” #37 team by mid-season, driven mostly by Tony Raines, preparing for an expansion to three teams in 2010.  The #37 made a late bid for the 2009 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, but ultimately lost to PRISM Motorsports’ Dave Blaney.

All three Front Row Motorsports Fords made the field for the 2010 Daytona 500 with Travis Kvapil finishing tops among them in 29th ahead of 31st-place Robert Richardson, Jr. and 38th-place John Andretti.  All three drivers switched rides that year along with Kevin Conway, who struggled in his rookie campaign amidst controversy surrounding his male enhancement sponsor ExtenZe.  Conway left to join Robby Gordon’s team by the end of the year.

In 2011, Front Row reduced back down to two cars with David Gilliland in the #34 and Travis Kvapil in the #38.  Gilliland had a handful of surprising runs, finishing 3rd in the Daytona 500, then 9th at Talladega and 12th at Sonoma.  However, Front Row continued to struggle overall, and another “start-and-park” team, #55, debuted at Loudon with all-time last-place leader Jeff Green aboard.  Kvapil, Gilliland, and J.J. Yeley switched rides between the three teams for the rest of the year.  The #55 scored eight last-place finishes in the second half of the year, good enough to take the 2011 LASTCAR Owner’s Championship from HP Racing LLC’s #66, driven by Michael McDowell.

In 2012, David Ragan joined the #34 team following his release from Roush-Fenway Racing, moving Gilliland to the #38.  The “start-and-park” team became #26, introduced by Tony Raines at Daytona, but run for most of the season by JR Motorsports export Josh Wise.  The #26 was an early favorite for the LASTCAR title, but stalled after four last-place finishes, ultimately losing to Phil Parsons Racing’s #98 and the #19 of Humphrey-Smith Motorsports, both teams remnants of HP Racing LLC, and both scoring five last-place finishes that season.

This year, Ragan remained in the #34 and Gilliland in the #38 with Josh Wise’s new #35 no longer on “start-and-park” duty.  Through a patchwork of sponsors, the three have fought for consistency since they were all involved in the same wreck midway through February’s Daytona 500.  Wise scored a pair of 26th-place finishes at Bristol and last month at Kansas, improving on his career-best 30th at Sonoma last year.  Gilliland finished 23rd at Kansas while Ragan’s previous season-best came last week at Richmond, where he finished 20th.  Coming into Sunday, however, Ragan’s best finish with the team came at Talladega last fall, where he was involved in the massive last-lap pileup only to snake his way through to a 4th-place finish.

Now, after Sunday’s race, Ragan not only has his second career win, but Gilliland equaled his runner-up finish at Sonoma in 2008 driving for Yates Racing, while Wise improved his career-best run to 19th.

On top of this being Ragan’s second career Cup Series win, it is just the third time in Cup Series history that the #34 took the checkered flag.  Both races were historically significant.  The first came at the Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949 when Jim Roper’s 1949 Lincoln was declared the winner of NASCAR’s first ever Cup race after the disqualification of Glenn Dunaway.  The other came December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, where owner-driver Wendell Scott became the first African-American racer to win a Cup Series race.  Like Roper, Scott was credited for the win long after the finish.  A questionable scoring error led to Scott running two extra laps in his 1962 Chevrolet, and the win was incorrectly given to the lapped Pontiac of Buck Baker.

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