Front Row Motorsports earned its first NASCAR victory Sunday night at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway when David Gilliland pushed teammate David Ragan to the checkers in a dramatic last-lap surge to cap off a wild and rain-interrupted race. Ragan earned Bob Jenkins' young team its first Sprint Cup Series win and Gilliland finished second for the best - and most dramatic - finish in team history.
The ending came in the form of a green-white-checkered finish, in which Ragan and Gilliland restarted in 10th and 11th respectively. In two laps, the pair freight-trained through the traffic in their Roush Yates-powered Ford Fusions to emerge at the front of the pack - seemingly out of nowhere and to the surprise and delight of the rain-soaked crowd.
The win is the second Sprint Cup victory for Ragan, and the runner-up finish ties Gilliland's best career result. The milestone event put partners Farm Rich (No. 34) and Love's Travel Stops (No. 38) in the spotlight in their first season working with Front Row Motorsports.
"This is a true David vs. Goliath moment here," Ragan said. "This is special to get Front Row Motorsports their first win. It feels like I've never been in Victory Lane before, I'm so excited. We're a small team. We build our own chassis, our own bodies, and it's such a special moment for our team and all of our partners. This is big."
For Jenkins, whose passion for racing led him to purchase a small NASCAR team in 2004, the Victory Lane champagne was long, and patiently, awaited.
"I've got guys at the shop that have the heart to win races," Jenkins said. "We just haven't always had the resources. So the challenge for me is, as we build cars, to make them better every week and to put ourselves in a position to win a race and that's really what happened (Sunday).
"It's just so satisfying to see that over the last nine years, we've gotten a little bit better every single year, and I felt the progress and I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd win one of these things."
The 1-2 finish almost didn't get the chance to happen. The 500-mile race was red-flagged at Lap 126 because of rain, and many thought the race would be declared over. Ragan sat in 18th, Gilliland in 24th and teammate Josh Wise in 26th when racing was halted, and the drivers thought their workday was done.
But NASCAR saw clearing skies and the chance to finish the race under green. After a three-hour and 36-minute red-flag period, the track was dry and NASCAR called for drivers to return to their cars. The race saw one more lengthy delay after a multi-car accident on Lap 184, which led to the green-white-checkered finish. As dusk fell over the track and a light rain began falling once again, the field went green for two more laps of hard racing.
"My crew chief, Frank Kerr, said, 'You've got to have the restart of your life,' and we had a good one," remarked Gilliland. "It's a huge day obviously 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 owned the team's previous best finish, a third-place showing in the 2011 Daytona 500.
Wise earned a commendable finish Sunday in his first full Sprint Cup race at Talladega, bringing home a top-20 finish after crossing the line 19th.
The team will be back at work Monday to prepare for the series' next event at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Saturday night.