Ragan ready to move on

2/23/2011 - NASCAR

Lost in the euphoria of Trevor Bayne's historic Daytona 500 victory was the heartbreaking disappointment for David Ragan, the coulda-woulda-shoulda winner Sunday.

Ragan made a mistake. He broke a rule near the end of the race, and NASCAR officials called him on it.

And that's where things get a little cloudy, at least to the many people whose Twitter comments showed they felt Ragan got a raw deal.

Ragan was leading the race before the first green-white-checkered restart. He chose the outside line, as the leaders had done all day. Fellow Ford driver Bayne, who had been Ragan's push partner for a good portion of the race, restarted at the front of the inside line.

Their teams had radio communication before the restart. Ragan wanted to make sure Bayne allowed him to get a little jump at the green flag so he could slip down in front of Bayne and continue their tandem to the finish.

Bayne was all for it, believing it was the best way for the two of them to stay ahead of the field. But Ragan was black-flagged by NASCAR for getting out of line before the start/finish line.

A wreck happened behind them to cause a second G-W-C restart, but Ragan's chance to win the race was over.

"You learn some hard lessons in this sport," Ragan said. "It's tough. I thought it was a gray-area rule."

So did some angry fans on Twitter. They saw it as a ticky-tack foul call on the final play of the game when NASCAR officials should have swallowed their whistle.

After all, this is a driver two laps from a possible Daytona 500 victory. He moved in front of Bayne with Bayne's blessing, along with that of Bayne's crew chief, Donnie Wingo. Both of them were shocked when Ragan was black-flagged.

"I thought we were done when that happened," Wingo said.

Bayne said afterward that he got a sick feeling when he learned Ragan had been black-flagged.

"We lost our drafting partner,'' Bayne said. "I had pushed the whole time. I thought we were in trouble."

He wasn't, obviously, earning one of the biggest upset victories in Daytona history.

The connection between Bayne and Ragan goes deeper than one-day drafting partners. Bayne is driving for the Wood Brothers on loan from Jack Roush, who signed Bayne when Michael Waltrip Racing released him last season because of a lack of sponsorship.

Rumors swirled that Bayne would take over for Ragan in the No. 6 Ford in 2012 unless Ragan showed dramatic improvement this season. Ragan is only 25, but he's starting his fifth full season in Cup and has yet to win a race. It's time to step up.

Ragan was two laps from doing that on Sunday. Roush was disappointed afterward, saying he never had seen NASCAR make that call.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said NASCAR didn't like having to black-flag Ragan, "But in light of what was said in the drivers meeting [warning driver to stay in line on restarts], it was an easy decision."

Nevertheless, I received a few e-mails from fans wondering whether NASCAR would have made the same call had the driver been Dale Earnhardt Jr. or some of the top Cup racers.

Robin Pemberton But in light of what was said in the drivers meeting [warning driver to stay in line on restarts], it was an easy decision.

-- Robin Pemberton

My answer in this case, assuming everything was the same, is yes. The reason? Ragan made it too obvious. In watching the replays, Ragan's car already was down in front of Bayne more than 100 yards before reaching the start/finish line.

"I think about what I could have done different," Ragan said. "I didn't want to jump the start, but I wanted to start making my move to the bottom.

"I felt I could start making my move prior to the line, I just couldn't get the whole way down. I made my move a little too early. I was looking in my mirror more than looking out the windshield."

Ragan watched a tape of the race Sunday night to better understand NASCAR's decision.

"I saw a couple of occasions where a car would move [down and change lanes] prior to the line," Ragan said. "But I just pushed it a little too much."

Had he waited a second longer to make his move, Ragan might have been the young man everyone was talking about instead of Bayne.

Ragan isn't the first man to have his heart broken at Daytona, and he won't be the last. But he always will wonder what might have been.

"We have to put it behind us," he said. "We'll have another opportunity to win one of these things. You just have to move on."

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.