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David Ragan makes final turn at Daytona International Speedway this time around

This time David Ragan gets the checkered flag and confetti treatment in Victory Lane at Daytona instead of a black flag.

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This time David Ragan gets the checkered flag and confetti treatment in Victory Lane at Daytona instead of a black flag.

DAYTONA BEACH — Somehow, I'd like to believe Bill Buckner feels good for the kid.

For that matter, Chris Webber should appreciate the idea of a do-over. And half a world away, it'd be nice if someone told Jan van de Velde this story of redemption.

Because second chances can be rare at this level, and pardons are almost unheard of. Yet here was David Ragan given a chance to relive the mistake of a lifetime.

One hundred thirty-two days after he blundered his way out of the winner's circle in the Daytona 500, Ragan was put in the same position in the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night. Same track. Same spot in the race. Same position in the field.

And this time, Ragan delivered. There would be no fatal mistake, no last-second lead change. Just a 25-year-old kid seeing the checkered flag for the first time in his 163rd race in the Sprint Cup series.

"I know how he felt after the 500 this year, and I can only imagine how tough that's got to be," said longtime friend Joey Logano, who finished third Saturday night. "He definitely redeemed himself today, so that's really cool.

"Congratulations to him and the team; they really, really deserved it."

It's not so much that Ragan erased the mistake of February, because that opportunity will never be recovered. Not when you have the Great American Race in your back pocket, and you give it away because of an unnecessarily aggressive penalty on the final restart.

No, what Ragan did on Saturday night was advance the story. He took his greatest heartbreak, and pushed it a little farther into his past.

For this was as close to a carbon-copy finish as possible. Just like the Daytona 500, this race went to the green-white-checkered overtime with multiple cautions on the final laps.

And just like the 500, Ragan was sitting in the lead on the final restart. In February, he tried to shoot from the top of the track to the bottom on the restart, but he made the mistake of changing his position before reaching the starting line and was black-flagged.

This time, as he was making his way around the track before the restart, one of the spotters for teammate Matt Kenseth mentioned on the radio that Ragan might want to be careful about changing lanes too soon.

"I said, 'You don't have to tell me,' " Ragan said. "It was good. It kind of lightened the mood."

With Kenseth pushing him from behind. Ragan completed the final two laps without much of a challenge.

"We got one back at Daytona," Ragan said. "It would have been tough to lose another one. I thought about that under that last caution. I said, 'Man, if we don't win this thing, I'm not going to talk to anyone afterwards.'

"But we were able to win, and that does ease the pain from February."

For Ragan, the redemption goes deeper than this. It goes back years. It goes past the snide remarks and the smart-aleck snickers.

It goes back to the winter of 2006-07 when Jack Roush handed the keys for Mark Martin's No. 6 car to a 21-year-old kid with racing's equivalent of a learner's permit.

Ragan wasn't ready for the challenge, and he admits that today.

A car that had qualified for the Chase the previous three years stumbled to 23rd and 13th in Ragan's first two seasons. And then things got worse. Ragan was 27th and 24th in the standings in 2009-10, and suddenly there were whispers of the whiz kid being dropped.

"Stepping in the 6 car isn't the easiest job in the world," Kenseth said. "It took a while to find a group of guys he worked the best with. But you could see it coming."

Ragan is 17th in the Cup standings, and the victory gives him a chance to make it into the Chase as one of the two wildcards.

"To finally have David in the win column, it's a really big thing for us," Roush said.

Ragan's story of redemption took some of the attention away from the goofy new style of tandem racing that has overtaken NASCAR in restrictor-plate racing.

Essentially, it has turned Daytona into an NBA game. No one really cares about the leader for the first two hours, and then it's two minutes of furious action. The only thing missing was Marv Albert.

Halfway through the race, you had nearly as many lead changes as cars. Guys were going from 30th to first and back again in a handful of laps. A track-record 25 drivers held the lead Saturday night. I swear, at one point Harry Gant was leading.

Kenseth, who finished second, said he felt like he won because of the way he and Ragan hugged each other's bumpers all night.

"I made a plan with David and we both did what it took," Kenseth said. "The two cars were like one car, and we had to treat it like that."

David Ragan makes final turn at Daytona International Speedway this time around 07/03/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 3, 2011 8:24pm]
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