Jamie McMurray pushed Kurt Busch to victory in the Budweiser Shootout Photo courtesy NASCAR
If NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at Daytona International Speedway is about speed and excitement, it sure produced both in dramatic style this weekend.
Continuing with this year's theme of first-time race winners, Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 presented by Coca-Cola delivered a thrilling victory for a driver who was looking for redemption.
Earlier this season, 25-year-old David Ragan was in position to score one of the sport's greatest upsets at Daytona. However, a costly late-race restart snafu dropped him out of contention, shifting lanes before the restart point.
On Saturday night, Ragan and his No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion team finally broke through, as they executed beautifully to capture the Unadilla, GA native's first career Sprint Cup win in his 163rd start.
“It was a tough one in February and coming back here, we knew that we’d have a shot to win,” Ragan said per AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article. “We got one back at Daytona. It would have been tough to lose another one."
Drivers jockeyed for positions in the late going, forming unlikely alliances in the final laps in their efforts to capture the extended 170-lap race. However, the Roush-Fenway Racing Fords of David Ragan and Matt Kenseth paired up efficiently all evening long.
While Ragan and Kenseth took home the 1-2 finishing positions, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
Towards the finish, Hendrick Motorsports racers Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin picked their way up to the front, as well as Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. before trouble found them.
Gordon's car broke loose from contact with Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano off turn four before making a miraculous save. With repairs and late-race attrition, Gordon salvaged his race with a sixth-place finish.
Martin, Johnson, and Earnhardt weren't so lucky, getting involved in crashes during the two green-white-checkered flag restarts.
Logano tangled with Martin during the first G-W-C attempt, collecting racers like Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Joe Nemechek, Landon Cassill, Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Travis Kvapil, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, David Reutimann, and David Gilliland.
Coming to the checkered flag on the second and final overtime restart, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. tangled, collecting Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the lead-lap tandems.
Heading into Saturday night's race, there was some focus on Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, as he returned to the site of his incredible victory just over four months ago.
After qualifying second, the concern for Bayne and his No. 21 Motorcraft/Wood Brothers Racing Ford team was finding a drafting partner. Unfortunately for Bayne, his improvised drafting partner in Brad Keselowski sent him crashing in turn one on lap four, ending his race in the 41st position.
Carl Edwards, who came into the race as the points leader, was also a victim of the two-car tandem, as teammate Greg Biffle drafted too close, sending him into the wall around turn four and dropping him to a 37th place finish, 26 laps off the pace.