By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After starting under bright sunshine and ending as darkness moved in at Talladega Superspeedway, the 2013 Aaron’s 499 delivered a great finish for the die-hard fans that endured a race that took approximately seven hours to complete after rain moved in halfway through the race to delay it.
When the race restarted, fans saw a finish for the ages when David Ragan, being pushed by his Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Gilliland, shocked the world and took his underdog No. 34 Farm Rich Ford to Victory Lane, beating the other powerhouse teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to do so.
Carl Edwards came home in third, followed by Michael Waltrip in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson in fifth.
The 1-2 finish by Ragan and Gilliland gives Front Row Motorsports their first Cup Series win as an organization and gives Ragan his second career win, the first of which also came on a restrictor plate track at Daytona back in 2011.
In Victory Lane after the race, Ragan was ecstatic about getting Front Row their first win and had this to say, “I can’t thank Ford Racing, Doug Yates, Robert Yates and Jack Roush enough. Man, it is a special moment for all of our partners here. This is big.”
Gilliland echoed those sentiments after the race by saying, “Huge day for any team to get first and second, but for Front Row Motorsports and our little team and what we do it with, we’re really proud of that. And Bob Jenkins for sticking with us and doing this deal probably 80, 90 percent out of his own pocket, it’s a special day.”
Bright sunshine greeted the drivers as the race got underway shortly after 12:07 PM, local time, and the drivers took no time in morphing the field into two-wide and three-wide racing throughout the pack. Green flag conditions were out on the speedway until lap 24, when the first caution came out due to Trevor Bayne blowing an engine mid pack and laying fluid down on the track. Bayne was able to avoid contact with any other drivers and limped his No. 21 Ford back to pit road.
The caution allowed Denny Hamlin, who started the race for the first time since his back injury at Auto Club Speedway in March, to get out of the car in order to keep from being injured again and for Hamlin to heal further in anticipation of running the full race the following weekend at Darlington. Brian Vickers took over for Hamlin from that point on in the race.
When the race went back green, the field once again started their two and three-wide racing, leading to the inevitable “Big One” when Kyle Busch turned Kasey Kahne in front of the field as they crossed the start-finish line.
By the time the wreck was over, a total of 16 cars were involved in the accident, including Busch, Kahne, Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, David Stremme, Kurt Busch, David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Scott Speed, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon. Some of these drivers were able to continue after repairs, but the majority of them were done for the day.
After that melee, the field seemed to calm down for a while, but the threat of rain increased as the afternoon progressed and with rain imminent, they began fighting for the lead. Matt Kenseth, who had a strong car out front all day, was passed by rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. as Stenhouse looked to have the race won as the rain began to fall. That is until his Roush-Fenway teammate, Edwards, passed him only seconds before the caution came out for rain.
That caution flag turned into a red flag that lasted three hours, 36 minutes, and six seconds in total, partly due to two rain cells that moved over the track and prolonged the drying time with the new Air Titan.
After the lengthy delay, the race finally went back green as daylight began to fade around the speedway.
The race was calm until about 10 laps to go, when a late caution brought out by the No. 98 car set up a late race restart that everyone knew would get wild, and wild meant the second “Big One” of the day. The wreck included a total of 12 cars and saw Kurt Busch and his No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet get turned sideways mid-pack and barrel roll multiple times before landing on the hood of Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet.
All of the drivers would be okay after the wreck, but Busch was certainly not happy, as he was fighting for the lead only moments earlier.
When exiting the Infield Medical Center after getting checked out, Busch said, “We just got hit from behind, and along for the ride we went.” He continued when asked if he was okay by saying, “Yes, lovely.”
That wreck set up a green-white-checkered finish for the second day in the row and extended the race by two laps to 190 laps in total. Carl Edwards led the first of the two laps, but on the last lap, David Ragan got his push from his teammate Gilliland and was able to take his team to Victory Lane. The win was certainly popular among the garage, as Ragan is known as one of the good guys in the sport.