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David Ragan wins for the underdogs

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By Ngozi Ekeledo

TALLADEGA, Ala. ( Ed Hinton / NASCAR ) -- Carl Edwards, sailing half a lap from victory, suddenly looked in his mirror and "I thought, who … is … that?"

That was David Ragan, pushed by David Gilliland -- mates on a team running on so little budget that they can't always afford enough tires for a race.

And this was, as winner Ragan would say afterward, "A true David versus Goliath moment."

Actually it was David and David versus all the Goliaths who towered over the late stages of Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. And it really was no contest -- the Davids, hooked up in a tandem that was coming through regardless, were an irresistible force on the final lap of the green-white-checkered finish.

The giants of the waning laps were: Matt Kenseth, who'd dominated the race on both sides of a 3½-hour rain delay; Jimmie Johnson, who'd kept on his bumper; and Edwards, who'd blasted to the front on the final restart.

But, pretty much out of nowhere as far as the big boys were concerned, "We had a heckuva run. We were pushing, and I was locked to [Ragan]'s bumper and I wasn't going to let go," Gilliland, who finished second himself after the big push of Ragan, said.

"It's a huge, huge deal for us to be sitting here right now," Ragan said. "A 1-2 finish -- can you believe that?"

When you think of 1-2 finishes, you think of Hendrick Motorsports, or Joe Gibbs Racing, or Roush Fenway et al.

"It's a 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," Gilliland said. "[Owner] Bob Jenkins does this probably 80 or 90 percent out of his own pocket. There's weeks when we don't have enough tires to put on our cars and we have to put on scuffs and race against guys who have stickers."

To such underdogs, the big guns were almost happy to lose after they'd figured out what had blown past them.

Johnson had thought he, Kenseth, Edwards and perhaps Regan Smith "would settle the race between us. … Then, the 34 [Ragan] and the 38 [Gilliland] … I mean … they came up on us so fast.

"I could see Carl trying to block, and I said, 'There's no way to block the speed they're bringing,'" Johnson continued. "They blew on by, and David made it back to the checkered flag. Really cool for that team and for David."

Kenseth led for the final restart and appeared poised to finish off a day on which he'd dominated 142 of the scheduled 188 laps.

But, "Carl just got a rocket restart and he cleared me down the backstretch," Kenseth said. Focused on Edwards, "I didn't watch the runs from the guys in the back. They just got a huge run up the middle. I saw David at the last minute, but he was going so fast that if I'd pulled in front of him I was going to get wrecked, so I just had to bite the bullet."

But Kenseth took consolation in that "It's always cool to see the underdogs go up there and grab one."

Edwards was next to feel the onslaught of the little tandem that roared.

"On the white-flag lap, I thought -- thought -- we were going to win it, until I saw those guys coming, and I thought, who is that?" Edwards said. "They were coming. And I blocked as much as I could. David did everything but spin me out down the back straightaway. He was all over the back bumper, and I could feel from the way he was pushing and moving that if I'd turned to stay across his hood … I was going to be on the highlight reel for the wrong reasons.

"As frustrated as I am about the loss, I'm really happy for these guys," Edwards said of the two Davids and their little team. "It couldn't happen to two better guys and a harder-working team."

Onslaught that they'd mounted, "I'd hate to have to line up and have to do it again," Ragan said. He'd started the green-white-checkered 10th, tried to latch onto Kenseth and, suddenly, found teammate Gilliland pushing him.

When the Davids came up on Edwards to complete the shocker, "Carl, I guess, didn't see me coming quick enough," Ragan said, "or we had such a fast run, I was able to get position on him.

"I knew once I came out of Turn 4 we had enough steam to make it back to the start-finish line."

For that moment, Front Row Motorsports was the most-dominant team in NASCAR.

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