Dale Earnhardt Jr. caught up in Daytona wreckage

DAVID RAGAN WINS COKE ZERO 400

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) wrecks on final lap of Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 88 is smack-dab in the middle of a big wreck at Daytona International Speedway where the only real drama comes in the closing laps.  
DAYTONA BEACH – Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried the emotion of his legendary father's death in the 2001 Daytona 500 to victory lane in that summer's July race here. Fast forward to Saturday night under the lights and Junior was just another casualty in the new order of restrictor-plate racing where multiple cars are wrecked in the closing laps.
 
Photo courtesy of NASCAR / David Ragan celebrates in Victory Lane after his first Sprint Cup Series win in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Earnhardt, caught up in the final wreck when his car was struck by Jamie McMurray's on that final lap, was livid after the race, reiterated his disdain for the tandem-style racing that has become NASCAR's new world order on the super speedways at Daytona and Talladega.

"What kind of move can you make? I mean, Jesus, man," Earnhardt, Jr. told the Orlando Sentinel. "What kind of freakin' move can you make racing like this? There are no moves to make. You're just holding on trying not to wreck each other, and we saw how good we are at that." Earnhardt's winless streak now spans 110 races.

Ragan was able to stay clear of the wrecks, to take the checkered flag for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in a thrilling green-white-checkered finish in the 53rd annual Coke Zero 400 under the lights of Daytona International Speedway.

Ragan’s No. 6 Ford was in a familiar position on the final restart. He was in the same spot earlier this year in the Daytona 500, but changed lanes before crossing the start/finish line and was black-flagged – losing his chance at winning the richest and most prestigious race in the sport.

This time, Roush Fenway Racing teammate and drafting partner Matt Kenseth was lined up behind Ragan, keeping him out front for the last eight laps and helping him become the seventh driver whose first-ever win has come in NASCAR's mid-summer classic.

“There’s not a better place to do it than Daytona. It couldn’t be any better,” Ragan told reporters in victory lane. “We’ve been so close so many times and finally we’re here. Daytona means a lot. It is a special race and we’re very fortunate to get our first win here.”

“There’s not a better place to do it than Daytona. It couldn’t be any better,” Ragan told reporters in victory lane. “We’ve been so close so many times and finally we’re here. Daytona means a lot. It is a special race and we’re very fortunate to get our first win here.”

Despite racing well on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, circumstances have kept Ragan from finishing well and his previous best finish of fourth came back in 2007 in the ARCA series.

Courtesy photo / wrecks like this one in the final lap of Saturday's Coke Zero have drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. unhappy because of the reliance of the tandem-style racing that leaves drives vulnerable when the link on the track is broken.

Kenseth held on to second and Joey Logano, winner of last night’s Nationwide Series race, finished third. After capturing his 50th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole this week, veteran Mark Martin had a strong run, but was involved in an incident during the first green-white-checkered attempt and finished 33rd.

Carl Edwards entered the race as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader, but spun exiting Turn 4 on lap 23 and sustained damage to the No. 99 Subway Ford, enabling defending race winner Kevin Harvick to take over the points lead.

FAST FACTS

A track-record 25 drivers exchanged the lead a race-record 57 times; the previous record of 49 lead changes was set back in 1974.

Editor's Note: Information from NASCAR was used in this report.

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