Sunday, October 27, 2013

CUP: David Ragan’s Surprising Qualifying Run Ends With Disappointment In Martinsville

SOURCE: Action Sports Photography,
David Ragan picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #34 Taco Bell Ford fell out with an engine failure after he completed 109 of the race’s 500 laps.

The finish was Ragan’s first of 2013 and his first in a Cup race since the 2012 Daytona 500, when he was involved in a multi-car crash on the second lap of the race.

Competing in his second season for Front Row Motorsports, Ragan authored one of the most incredible upsets in NASCAR Cup Series history.  With darkness approaching in the rain-delayed Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, Ragan pulled off a last-lap pass on Carl Edwards to claim his second series victory.  Teammate David Gilliland pushed Ragan to the victory, and in the process matched his own career-best finish of 2nd at Sonoma in 2008.  In last week’s return to Talladega, Ragan and Gilliland finished nose-to-tail in 6th and 7th.

Unfortunately, much of 2013 has still been a struggle for Ragan, Gilliland, and their teammate Josh Wise.  In the thirty-two races before Martinsville, Ragan had finished 21st or worse in twenty-eight of them, including Bottom Fives at Phoenix (38th) and Darlington (39th).  He finished 30th at Martinsville in the spring.

After running 34th in the opening practice, Ragan stunned the field by qualifying 8th at an average speed of 98.815 mph, making him one of eighteen drivers to break Jimmie Johnson’s track record set in the spring.  It was Ragan’s best start at Martinsville since the spring of 2008, when he qualified 4th, and followed-up an equally-strong 7th starting spot last week at Talladega.  Despite this, Ragan timed in only 27th and 31st in Saturday’s final two practices.

At the start of Sunday’s race, Ragan slipped back to the 11th spot when the first caution fell on Lap 8.  The yellow flew when Jeff Burton spun in the fourth corner, causing the flat black #7 Chevrolet of Dave Blaney to rear-end the #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota of Travis Kvapil.  Blaney broke an oil cooler in the incident, and the fluid he leaked around the track forced twelve laps of caution.  Blaney remained in 43rd for much of the race as the crew effected repairs.

Ragan was running around mid-pack when he suddenly slowed on Lap 110 and pulled behind the wall with engine trouble.  At almost the exact same time, Blaney returned to the track.  While Ragan’s incident did not bring out the caution flag, another engine failure by upstart Kyle Larson in the #51 Target Chevrolet did, by which point Blaney was closing on Ragan for 42nd.  Near the halfway point, Blaney passed Ragan, dropping the #34 to the 43rd spot.

Behind Ragan and Larson in the Bottom Five was Tony Raines, last week’s Talladega last-placer, who lost the brakes on his unsponsored #33 Chevrolet.  Reed Sorenson returned to the track in the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford, and though he lost several laps early, he continued past the halfway point before the rear gear locked-up in Turn 4 on Lap 285.  Blaney rounded out the Bottom Five.

For the second-straight race, Michael McDowell, still the leader in the 2013 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, had sufficient funding to run the entire race.  Driving the #98 Pray For Your Pastor Ford, McDowell was plagued by persistent brake problems that left him laps down for much of the event.  But past the halfway point, he found himself as the first car off the lead lap.  With no one just one lap down, McDowell received the Lucky Dog in four of the race’s last six cautions, ultimately putting him back on the lead lap.  The brake problems worsened, however, causing his right-rear hub to ignite late in the race, and he finished two laps down - but still under power - in the 26th spot.  It’s McDowell’s best-career finish at Martinsville, matching the 26th-place finish in his Cup debut here in the spring of 2008.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #34 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville since October 22, 2006, when Kevin Lepage’s Oak Glove Co. Chevrolet broke a rear gear after 209 laps.  Lepage’s car was also owned by Front Row Motorsports, which at the time was competing in just its second season on the tour.
*This was the best starting spot by a last-place finisher of a Cup Series race at Martinsville since October 1, 2000, when Ward Burton’s #22 Caterpillar Pontiac started 4th, then lost the engine after 61 laps of the NAPA AutoCare 500.

43) #34-David Ragan / 109 laps / engine
42) #51-Kyle Larson / 160 laps / engine
41) #33-Tony Raines / 220 laps / brakes
40) #95-Reed Sorenson / 275 laps / rear gear
39) #7-Dave Blaney / 357 laps / crash

1st) Michael McDowell (6)
2nd) Mike Bliss (5)
3rd) Scott Riggs (4)
4th) Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek, Scott Speed, J.J. Yeley (2)
5th) Trevor Bayne, Dave Blaney, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Jason Leffler, Paul Menard, Danica Patrick, David Ragan, Tony Raines, David Reutimann (1)

1st) #19-Humphrey-Smith Racing, #98-Phil Parsons Racing (6)
2nd) #44-Xxxtreme Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (3)
3rd) #36-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #87-NEMCO Motorsports (2)
4th) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #10-Stewart-Haas Racing, #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #27-Richard Childress Racing, #31-Richard Childress Racing, #34-Front Row Motorsports, #40-Hillman Racing, #47-JTG Daugherty Racing, #51-Phoenix Racing, #83-BK Racing (1)

1st) Ford (14)
2nd) Toyota (11)
3rd) Chevrolet (8)

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