After a mentally draining day of missing multiple accidents and spins, you find yourself restarting on the front row of the sport's biggest race with just two laps left. Every one of your fellow 42 competitors, including yourself, have dreamt of this scenario and the opportunity for racing immortality since childhood.
Such was the story for David Ragan on Sunday, the Roush Fenway driver who, owner Jack Roush elected to keep instead of Jamie McMurray, won the the sport's two biggest races the very next season.
With his nerves a rightfully shaken, Ragan changed lanes on the restart before he crossed the starting line, and was sent to the rear of the field— a move which opened up the door for unknown driver Trevor Bayne to win in his second start in the series.
After the race Ragan said, "It will take a long time for us to get over this...it will be a hard lesson to learn", while being interview on TV. Opportunities such as the one before him late in the race on Sunday were Ragan's shot to prove he belongs in the Sprint Cup Series amid consistent dismissal rumors that have plagued him since his series debut in 2007 at Martinsville—where he caused multiple accidents and was described as "a dart without feathers," by fellow competitor Tony Stewart.
Late race heartbreakers, such as Ragan's, are not a new story during the Daytona 500. During the 2002 running of the Great American Race, Sterling Marlin found himself leading during a red-flag situation in the closing laps. However, he exited the car and attempted to repair his right-front fender— a move that had him sent to the rear of the field on the following restart. Marlin's mistake allowed Ward Burton to wind up in victory lane in a surprising finish.
Twelve years earlier, Dale Earnhardt cut a tire in the final laps of the 1990 Daytona 500 after dominating much of the race, which allowed the virtually unknown driver Derrike Cope to capture his first career win at the sport's biggest event of the year.
David Ragan's late race mistake on Sunday can be added to the list of driver's who have come so very close to etching their name in history, but wound up taking the long trip back to North Carolina wondering what might have been.
On the other side, great things can come from such a devastating defeat- like Dale Earnhardt, who won the 1990 Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) championship after his team hung the shredded tire from the Daytona 500 on the wall as motivation, and finally won the big race eight years later.
It's often been said that you must learn how to lose before you can win, and it will be interesting to see if Sunday's mistake will provide the extra fire that David Ragan needs to get that elusive first career victory in the Sprint Cup Series.
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