- Associated Press - Friday, May 10, 2013

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) - David Ragan said smaller operations like his Front Row Motorsports programs are closing the gap on the NASCAR’s major powers. And he believes the new Gen-6 car is the reason.

Ragan took his second career win when he led a 1-2 Front Row finish at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend. “I think the Gen-6 car has been a big equalizer,” Ragan said Friday.

If people look at statistics, run logs and average finishing positions, Ragan said it’s clear that the less-funded programs “have made a small step forward.”

“Everything is tighter and I think kudos go to NASCAR and everyone for making that happen,” Ragan said.

Ragan’s not sure if he and teammate David Gilliland, the runner-up last week at Talladega, can hold the same pace at Darlington Raceway in the Southern 500 on Saturday night. In 2011, Regan Smith captured the Darlington race for tiny Furniture Row Racing. Ragan acknowledged that Smith used a different pit strategy than much of the field and was able to hold on to the victory.

Ragan, though, said he’s coming in with the hope of finishing on the lead laps for a top-20 finish. “But, again, a perfect storm could happen,” he said.

Ragan’s not the only small-team driver opening some eyes. Aric Almirola of Richard Petty Motorsports has had four straight top-10 finishes, the longest current streak in Sprint Cup. Almirola says there’s a satisfaction when less well-funded programs run alongside and ahead of the big boys.

“We don’t have all of the absolute best parts and pieces that we could get, but we have good people and that makes up for a lot of it,” Almirola said.

Despite last week’s success, Ragan is 26th in points and knows it will be an uphill climb to make the top 20 or dream about reaching NASCAR’s championship Chase. Ragan says he’ll need plenty of help through the struggles of established drivers from bigger programs.

“Crazy things do happen,” Ragan said. “Some of these larger teams, they underachieve sometimes and sometimes the smaller teams overachieve and you’ve got to be prepared for anything. But that’s not something I’m going to hold my crew and my owner and my guys to.”

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