Every year, the underdog teams of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circle the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega as their chances to finish in the top-10 or contend for a race win, and Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 was yet another example of those tracks serving as the great equalizer.
Along with Michael McDowell finishing fourth, two other underdog teams, Front Row Motorsports (David Ragan) and Beard Motorsports (Brendan Gaughan), brought home top-10 finishes, with their respective sixth and seventh place finishes equaling their best finishes of the season.
Another underdog team, BK Racing, and driver Corey Lajoie finished just outside of the top-10 in 11th, also the best finish of the year for himself and his team.
The fact that all three were able to end the night in the top-11 is significant considering the fact that they all started 30th or worse when the green flag flew earlier this evening.
Ragan, who has won at Daytona before and last won a race back in 2013 at Talladega, drove from 30th to 10th place by the end of Stage 1, showing his restrictor plate prowess along the way. Though he did not finish in the top-10 in Stage 2, the final stage was much more productive for the No. 38 team.
Climbing back inside the top-10 as the laps wound down, Ragan moved into the race lead at lap 158 and looked to be in prime position to capture another restrictor plate race win, but when the caution flag flew a lap later and pushed the race to overtime, that would change everything.
On the restart in overtime, Ragan jumped to the outside, but that line just didn’t have the speed and he would lose the lead to eventual winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, dropping back to sixth when the checkered flag flew.
“I’m certainly proud of our effort tonight,” said Ragan. “Our Shriners Hospital for Children Ford was fast. We had a great day on pit road. Our car fast and and it drove really good. I give us an ‘A’ for the night. I missed my mark a bit coming to the white line. I zigged when I should have zagged. It’s tough to block two or three lanes coming to the white flag. I missed it on that run. If I couldn’t win I’m glad another Ford is is victory lane. Ricky’s a good guy and I’m proud for that team. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t close the deal.”
While Ragan was able to run up front for most of the day, Gaughan and Lajoie survived the 14 caution flags that flew throughout the night and they were able to find themselves in the right place at the right time with the finish in sight.
Gaughan, who is a full-time driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Richard Childress Racing, was making just his third start of the season for Beard Motorsport’s Cup Series effort, all of which have come on restrictor plate tracks. Saturday night’s seventh place finish tops his previous season best of 11th in the Daytona 500 and marks his first top-10 finish since 2004.
“We had a hell of a run,” said Gaughan. “Nobody would work with us. Nobody would be my friends at the end. Ryan Newman, RCR, helped me out and we charged our way to a top-10. Hell of a run. Great job Darren (Ware, crew chief). Thanks to the South Point boys for doing the pit stops. Thank you Beard family and all of the Beard folks. All you guys, thank you for letting me drive your race car. My first top-10 since 2004.”
Lajoie is in the midst of his rookie season in the Cup Series for BK Racing, but it has been a tough road for the No. 23 team thus far in the season as he has only raced in 15 of the 17 races so far with a best finish of 24th before Daytona’s 11th place result. While some of the major teams in the series might consider 11th a disappointment, Lajoie’s Daytona finish is almost like a win for a team like BKR.