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David Ragan drafts his way to maiden win

Johnson and Earnhardt had also got their act sorted, and the #48 propelled Earnhardt past Martin for the lead on lap 16, but then they got disconnected and became easy prey for Kurt Busch and Regan Smith to steam past, and then a couple of laps later it was Carl Edwards' turn to lead. But on lap 23, it all went horribly wrong for Edwards: he and Biffle moved to the outside to avoid contact with Busch/Smith, and Edwards rubbed across the front of Biffle's bumper and the contact sent him spinning into the inside wall out of turn 4.

"It was just the timing of everything. I was being aggressive and kind of having a little bit of fun, but that's what we decided we were gonna try to do," he said afterwards. "We were gonna go out there and race a little harder this time. We had the points lead and not a lot to lose."

The damage was extensive, the right-side crush panels broken and the damaged exhaust venting carbon monoxide into the car and sending temperatures in the #99 soaring. Edwards kept on circulating but fell further and further off the lead lap as the team continually brought him into the pits for running repairs to try and prevent their driver either suffocating or parboiling to death.

In the end he would finish in 37th place, 26 laps off the lead, and as a result, Edwards lost the Cup series points lead despite coming into Daytona with a 25pt advantage over Kevin Harvick - a major hit in anyone's book.

"It's no big deal. It is what it is," he insisted. "We just have to make sure we do well in the Chase." And making the Chase is still in no doubt whatsoever - not only is it highly unlikely he'll fail to finish in the top ten, he also has a race win that should assure him of the two wildcard entries to the post-season shoot-out stage if it were really necessary.

With Edwards out of the picture, Kevin Harvick won the race off pit road to lead at the restart on lap 26 with drafting assistance from Paul Menard, quickly joined at the front by Ragan and Kenseth and also by Martin Truex Jr. who led the race for the first time on lap 31 after hooking up with David Reutimann.

Brad Keselowski was also back at the front, after having got the lucky dog free pass under the second caution and then hooking up with his Red Bull team mate Brian Vickers, before then getting separated and ending up forming an alliance with the only other driver to have accidentally spun his drafting partner out of the race - Greg Biffle. It was a marriage made of slightly unfortunate convenience.

When the third caution of the afternoon came out on lap 48 - when Dave Blaney hit the wall in turn 2 - the top 18 had string out to single file and it happened to be Matt Kenseth's turn in the lead when the yellow flag came out. After pit stops, Truex Jr. soon picked up the lead with Reutimann, then Smith and Busch, then Kenseth with Ragan, and then Kasey Kahne who had now been able to relocate his team mate Brian Vickers. No one was able to hold on to the lead for long though, and having to swap a drafting pair's running order to stop the pushing car from overheating quickly resulted in a drop in position for everyone.

Other drivers and teams were opting for a different strategy: looking unlikely to run at the front at this stage, they decided instead to seek refuge at the back of the lead lap and aim to stay out of trouble. Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton and the Richard Petty Motorsports duo of AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose were among those to take this approach.

Tony Stewart and David Gilliland had been resolutely mid-pack for the first third of the race but suddenly turned the power up and took the lead for the first time on lap 70; others starting to find their rhythm included Travis Kvapil and Joe Nemechek who cracked the top ten at around the same stage of the evening, and Joe Gibbs Racing pair Kyle Busch and Joey Logano who had made it into the top five by lap 80, having had very poor qualifying positions after foregoing qualifying speed set-ups in practice to focus instead on drafting tactics. Terry Labonte and Andy Lally were another interesting pairing in the top ten at this stage, while further back the bigger names and more experienced drivers seemed to be biding their time - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in the mid-teens and former leaders Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin opting to lurk just outside the top 20 close to Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray.




Related Pictures

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Trevor Bayne, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, wrecks in turn one during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images]
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate All Battery Center Toyota and Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Picture Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR]
David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, crosses the start/finish line ahead of teammate Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Affliction Clothing: Live Fast Ford, to take the checkered flag and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR]
David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, performs a burnout in celebration of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR]
David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images]
Jeff Burton (#31) and Jamie McMurray (#1) park on pit road after wrecking during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images]
Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Carquest/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, drives to pit road with damage after a multi-car crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 AutoTrader.com Ford, and Morgan Shepherd, driver of the #33 Little Joe`s Autos Chevrolet, crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, and Erik Jones, driver of the #51 ToyotaCare Toyota, lead the field during a restart of the American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series car (Photo Credit: NASCAR)
Erik Jones, driver of the #51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series car (Photo Credit: NASCAR)
Erik Jones in action in the #51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series car (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, right, poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert and the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 AutoTrader.com Ford, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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