DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — It was all right there for the taking. David Ragan, the forgotten man at Roush Fenway, the guy Jack Roush backed only to see kicked-to-the-curb driver Jamie McMurray win four races in less than a year, stood just two laps from immortality and a Daytona 500 victory.
Ragan had posted the second-fastest lap on the day at 201.478 mph, and the guy who was the fastest, Trevor Bayne, ran 201.487. And, fortunately enough, Ragan and Bayne were pairing up in the two-by-two runs that were the order of the day. So when the race went to a two-lap green-white-checker finish, it was only natural for Ragan to want to pair up with Bayne.
Problem is, Ragan and Bayne were running side-by-side on the restart, not front-to-back. And like a middle-schooler nervous about asking a girl to his first dance, Ragan got jumpy, switching lanes to get in front of Bayne before he got to the starting line.
That, unfortunately, is a black-flag violation, and Ragan got sent back in the field. He was able to work his way back up to fifth place, but by then Bayne had gone on to a stunning upset victory.
"I know what the rules are," Ragan said afterward. "... I felt like we fired and I started to move down right before the start-finish line, but I don't think I crossed that invisible line that separates the top and the bottom. I also haven't seen the replay, but to win these Cup races you can't make any mistakes, and the mistake I made hurt us ... It'll take a long time to forget this one, but we'll move on to Phoenix and the sooner we can win one, the sooner we can forget it."
There's no guarantee Ragan could have held off the field to win, even though that's exactly what Bayne did. But for a guy who hasn't had a top 5 since 2008, and doesn't have a single Cup-level win to his credit, this one will surely burn for awhile.