"Really? David Ragan! Really!?"
I yelled that at no one in particular when Ragan's No. 34 held off the No. 99 of Carl Edwards, as they headed through Talladega Superspeedway's tri-oval and toward the start/finish line.
I certainly wasn't mad. Sure, I was content with Edwards winning the race and continuing his strong start to the season, but I wasn't frustrated to see Ragan pull ahead. I knew that of all the drivers, Ragan deserved a win more than most. My reaction was more shock that it was his Front Row Motorsports Ford that was taking the checkered flag at the end of a wild and rain-delayed Aaron's 499.
Perhaps it was the ensuing darkness that was playing tricks on my eyes? Perhaps the NASCAR on FOX crew was having trouble identifying the cars at that time of evening?
Low and behold, when the race ended, it was the No. 34 that crossed the line first and brought owner Bob Jenkins and his Front Row Motorsports outfit to victory lane for the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
In its history, FRM's highest finish before Sunday was David Gilliland's third-place in the Daytona 500 in 2011. In fact, since it began racing in 2005, the team had only recorded two top-fives and four top-10s in its nine-year history. On Sunday, it doubled that top-five count.
I was so caught up in the amazement that Ragan had pulled off the David versus Goliath feat (pun intended) that I hadn't realized Gilliland had chased him to the line to give the team a 1-2 finish; Front Row Motorsports it was indeed.
The win was very much a team effort. It was the No. 38 of Gilliland that gave the No. 34 the push it needed to catch Edwards entering turn 3 and pull away exiting turn 4.
"I just stayed on his bumper," said Gilliland. "I pushed him all the way around there and Carl about stalled out a little bit, and we were just able to carry some good momentum and come home one-two."
Gilliland has been a full-time driver with Front Row Motorsports since 2010, and Ragan joined on at the start of last season after Roush Fenway Racing choose not to resign him. Gilliland had always hoped to bring FRM to victory lane, and while he has yet to accomplish that goal, he was visibly excited with the role he played to help pick up a win for his teammate.
A one-for-all, all-for-one mindset is what Jenkins has built his organization around. "The thing that I think makes our team different than some of the rest is we're so close," he said after the win. "More than anything, we're friends."
As Ragan climbed out of his car on Sunday, it was clear just how much the win meant for the organization. In his celebration, he nearly leapt into his crew with joy. And, Gilliland only stayed out of victory lane long enough to give FOX an interview, before bolting to join the celebration. He even followed Ragan to the post-race press conference to listen to what his teammate had to say.
It's been a difficult few years for Ragan. He had scored just two top-10s in 45 races before the win, but it never seemed to diminish his spirit. He approached the challenge of moving from a highly-funded team to a low-budget outfit with more enthusiasm than most.
His commitment was rewarded on Sunday. He proved to the world that Davids do slay Goliaths, and that Front Row Motorsports can indeed finish on the front row.