This week it really could happen. And if one takes the checkered flag in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, while it might be an underdog win, it wouldn’t be an upset.
They’ve been that close before.
The two veterans have shown best for Front Row Motorsports on the circuit’s two restrictor plate tracks. Gilliland finished third in the 2011 Daytona 500 and Ragan was fourth at Talladega last fall and seventh in the spring.
“I feel like this could be the one for the last five or six years,” Ragan said Friday. “It’s just so competitive — the series — and 500 miles is such a long race a lot of things can happen.
“I certainly don’t feel like this place owes me one or anything like that, but every time I get to Daytona or Talladega we feel like this could be the one we could win as a team. Nothing would make me happier than to get Front Row Motorsports their first Sprint Cup series victory (this weekend).”
Ragan has 12 career Top 10 finishes at Daytona and Talladega, including a win in the July 2011 Daytona race for another team. He has five Top 10s in 12 Talladega starts. His best finish was a third in the fall 2008 race, an event he led for 11 laps.
Gilliland, meanwhile, has two top 10 finishes at Talldega. He was fourth in the spring 2007 race, where he started second, and won the pole in the fall 2006 race.
There’s no mystery to their success, really. It’s just a combination of both enjoying this type of racing and an emphasis on success.
“David Gilliland and I are two good restrictor plate racers,” Ragan said. “We have a lot of confidence coming here so we put a little extra emphasis on our cars, maybe a little more wind tunnel time than we normally don’t do at some of the other tracks because this race the draft is an equalizer.
“It’s exciting to come to Daytona/Talladega because we feel like if we play our cards right we have as good a chance to win as any of the other 42 guys on the track.”
The cards looked to be in place at the Daytona 500 earlier this year — until somebody shuffled the deck. After what he described as a “struggle” just to get to the race, Gilliland posted the second-fastest speed in final practice. Then he got knocked out of the main event in a Lap 138 chain-reaction pileup that also collected Ragan and teammate Josh Wise.
“We felt like we had a great Speed Weeks down there at Daytona … and our program has taken some big steps forward since then,” Gilliland said. “We felt like we’ve worked hard on our speedway cars. We were just in the wind tunnel on Tuesday and no doubt our car is much better than it was at Daytona. So, that gives you a lot of confidence going in.
“I’m very anxious (for Sunday). Daytona was going so well for us, we’ve just got to come here and try to finish it off.”
It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and having a little luck. Last spring, Ragan was close on fuel but didn’t have to pit near the end of the race, restarted in the top 10 and finished there. In the fall, he was running in the top 15, missed the big accident at the end and its fallout and wound up finishing fourth.
“It’s a fun weekend,” he said. “We’re prepared we have a good game plan, we’ve just got to execute and do the best job we can and the results are going to fall wherever they fall.”
At the rate they’re going, one of these superspeedway weekends it’s going to fall their way.
“It’s definitely our goal to come out here and get (owner) Bob Jenkins his first win,” Gilliland said.
Added Ragan: “And that will be a big deal. To get a win for our team will be special.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.