Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Front Row Report: Daytona 500

David Ragan (No. 34) gets collected in an early wreck on Lap 2.
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR
David Ragan, David Gilliland, and Tony Raines all came to Daytona International Speedway with high hopes that they could be the one to become the 2012 Daytona 500 champion, which would bring much needed money as well as recognition to Front Row Motorsports. Rain fell on Sunday, forcing NASCAR to postpone the race until noon Monday. However, Mother Nature intervened on Monday, too. Rain delayed the start of the race until Monday night. The rain delay was only the start of the bizarre twists that would befall the Daytona 500.

The Front Row Motorsports drivers were viewed as underdogs, but there was talk all week leading up to the race that a driver from the organization could be crowned as a Daytona 500 champion. The Ford drivers had been dominant in the practice sessions at Daytona, and things looked promising for Ragan, Gilliland, and Raines. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Especially when pack racing is so unpredictable. Ragan’s night ended just as soon as it had begun when he was collected in the multi-car crash on Lap 2. Gilliland was involved in a crash late in the race, but held on to finish despite the damage to his racecar. Raines was able to avoid late-race trouble to be the highest-finishing Front Row Motorsports driver.

David Ragan, No. 34 Scorpion Truck Bed Liners Ford -- Start: 25th, Finish: 43rd

After a lot of uncertainty during the off season, David Ragan found a new ride with Front Row Motorsports after being let go from Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the 2011 season. Ragan, who saw his chances at winning the 2011 Daytona 500 disappear after being penalized on a restart later in the race, returned to Daytona with renewed determination to get the job done this time around in the No. 34 Scorpion Truck Bed Liners Ford.

Unfortunately for Ragan, he would never have a chance to see if he could put himself in contention for the win again. Just after crossing the start/finish line to complete Lap 1, a multi-car crash unfolded as Elliott Sadler, in the No. 33, got into the back of the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson. As drivers scattered to avoid the melee, Ragan had nowhere to go as he slammed into the left side of Johnson’s car. The damage to Ragan’s car was too much to repair, and the No. 34  team was relegated to a 43rd place finish.

David Gilliland, No. 38 MHP/Power Pak Pudding Ford -- Start: 33rd, Finish: 23rd.

One year ago, David Gilliland came close to winning the Daytona 500 when he finished 3rd. He had high hopes he could do just as well on Monday. Gilliland was forced to start the race from the rear of the field after his primary Daytona 500 car was damaged in a crash during the first Gatorade Duel on Thusday. Once the green flag waved, Gilland was content to keep his No. 38 MHP/Power Pak Pudding Ford in the back for much of the race.

When the caution came out on Lap 158, crew chief Pat Tryson ordered Gilliland to stay out and not pit with the rest of the leaders. He opted to stay out for one more lap. Just before Gilliland was to pit under the caution, Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his No. 42 Chevrolet and collided  with a jet dryer. The impact resulted in a huge fire and forced NASCAR to throw the red flag. Gilliland was 4th at the time. As the delay wore on, there was talk that NASCAR could potentially call the race, but emergency crews and track officials had the track ready for racing again two hours after the red flag had been displayed.

Once the red flag was lifted, Gilliland made his scheduled pit stop and remained toward the back of the pack once the race restarted. On Lap 189, another multi-car incident unfolded, and Gilliland was able to avoid it. With less than ten laps remaining once the race restarted, he decided it was time to make his move. His luck ran out on Lap 198 when he was hit from behind and hit the wall on the frontstretch. Even with heavy damage, Gilliland remained on track for the green-white-checkered attempt to finish 23rd.

Tony Raines, No. 26 Santorum for President Ford -- Start: 41st, Finish 19th.

The No. 26 Santorum for President Ford was not locked into the field for the Daytona 500 coming into Speedweeks, but Tony Raines was able to race his way in. Raines’ strategy once the green flag waved Monday night was to remain in the back in hopes of avoiding any potential trouble. It was a plan that ultimately paid off, but it took a lot of work on the No. 26 team’s part to bring home a good finish.

By Lap 60, Raines was a lap down and struggling with an ill-handling racecar. His team made adjustments during every pit stop, keeping Raines in position to be the Lucky Dog and get back on the lead lap when the next caution came out. That caution came on Lap 80, and Raines was back on the lead lap. Just like teammate Gilliland, Raines was inside the top five when the race was red flagged. Raines ran competitively inside the top fifteen once the race restarted and was 11th for the final restart. Raines finished 19th after having to check up to avoid making contact with another driver in the final turn.

Race winner: Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Best Buy Ford

Threats of rain and even a fire on the track couldn’t stop a Ford driver from taking the checkered flag on Monday. Matt Kenseth easily sailed to his second Daytona 500 victory with a hard charging Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Greg Biffle right behind him.

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