David Ragan earned the first Sprint Cup victory of his career Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, ending a 162-race losing streak with a push from teammate Matt Kenseth in the Coke Zero 400.
Kenseth, the 2009 Daytona 500 winner and the elder statesman of the Roush Fenway Racing team, locked onto Ragan's bumper and gave him sound advice.
"I can't thank my spotter and my crew chief and my team enough. They really humbled me and kept me focused. Matt pushed me to the finish line," Ragan said in Victory Lane.
Though he had run better this season, his fifth full season in the Sprint Cup series, Ragan had yet to come all that close to a win.
That changed in this return trip to Daytona as the 25-year-old second-generation NASCAR driver found himself leading the pack for the final two laps.
With the win, Ragan could be in contention for a berth in the season-ending Chase for the Championship. Ragan jumped to 17th in the standings, and two spots in the Chase will go to the drivers ranked 11 to 20 with the most victories along with the top 10 in points.
If the Chase cutoff were today, the two wild-card spots would go to Ragan and Denny Hamlin, who is 11th. Those are the only two drivers who stand 11th to 20th in points who own a victory this season.
And Saturday's win could save the relationship with sponsor UPS, which is in the final year of its contract with RFR. The team learned this week that Crown Royal will not return as primary sponsor for Kenseth, and so far the organization has only one of its four primary sponsors re-signed for 2012.
"David has a great future ahead of him, and we look forward to many more trips to victory lane with him," Ron Rogowski, UPS vice president of sponsorship and events, said in a statement immediately after the race.
Kenseth finished second to give RFR a 1-2 sweep for Ford.
"I told him, 'I'm not going to leave you and try to pass you,' " Kenseth said, "because I knew that one of us weren't going to win. So that was a plan to work as a team all night and it just so happened he was in front at the end. Both of us were kind of unselfish all night and worked together really well."
Joey Logano, who won his first Daytona race Friday in the Nationwide series, finished third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kasey Kahne was fourth in a Toyota for Red Bull Racing and Kyle Busch was fifth for JGR.
Jeff Gordon made a terrific late-race save to avoid a wreck and finished sixth in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Kevin Harvick was seventh for Richard Childress Racing and claimed the series points lead after an early accident caused previous leader Carl Edwards to finish 37th.
The race was, as expected, more of the two-car tandem style that has taken over at Daytona and Talladega, the two restrictor-plate tracks in NASCAR. It was fairly tame until the final 20 or so laps, when the racing got dicey.
It got downright chaotic with just over two scheduled laps remaining, when Gordon needed a beautiful save to prevent a massive accident. That set up the first attempt at overtime, which ended with a 15-car accident triggered when Mark Martin and Logano went for the same piece of track space.
Then came the second overtime, which ended with Ragan crossing the finish line first as a second 15-car accident broke out in the final turn.
"Not a better night to win, this is awesome," Ragan said.
On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Ragan was out front when caution flew on the 10th lap of overtime as multiple cars wrecked behind the leaders.
Another of Ragan's teammates, Carl Edwards, entered the night with a 25-point lead in the Cup standings over second-place Kevin Harvick. But on Lap 23, as Edwards and another teammate, Greg Biffle, moved to the outside to avoid Kurt Busch and Regan Smith, Edwards' Ford spun across Biffle's bumper and slid into the inside wall off Turn 4.
The impact broke the crush panels on the right side of Edwards' car, and when he returned, he was breathing carbon monoxide from the exhaust.
Martin started on the pole, led more than a dozen laps early and was closing in on the leaders late.
Then his ride around Daytona ended like so many others have for him — in the garage and out of contention.
The wreck with Logano left Martin 0-for-53 in Cup races at NASCAR's most famous track.
"I knew it was going to get crazy," Martin said.
It certainly did.
Martin turned down in front of Joey Logano shortly after a green-white-checker restart, got clipped and started spinning in front of a pack of others. Martin could do little to avoid the melee, collecting Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and others. Logano acknowledged afterward that he was merely being aggressive in the final laps.
"Mark was trying to come down in front of me," Logano said. "I could have backed off and let him in, but it was the end of the race so I was wide open, I didn't care. … We were going to team up, but I went in there guns blazing and see what the heck happened on the other side."
It's the second time that Daytona has crowned two first-time Sprint Cup winners in one season as Ragan joined Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. In 1994 Sterling Marlin (in the 500) and Jimmy Spencer (400) pulled off the feat.