This was a win that Jimmie Johnson will never forget. With two laps to go, Johnson seemed down and out as he was running 12th. Then, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s teammate, said it was go time and latched onto Johnson’s bumper. When the white flag waved, Johnson was back in the seventh and catching the two-car tandem of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Edwards led with two to go, but Jeff Gordon had just taken the lead away from him with one lap to go. Meanwhile, up front, there were four drivers in two two-car tandems. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick were fighting for the win. None of them saw Johnson coming.
Coming out of turn four, Gordon was still in the lead. When the leaders entered the tri-oval, Bowyer pulled along side Gordon. Earnhardt and Johnson were now right behind them, and Edwards and Biffle were coming fast. In the center of the tri-oval, Johnson made it three-wide for the lead, and now Bowyer was in the lead.
It was a mad dash to the finish line. Ten feet before the finish line, Bowyer was the leader, but in the blink of an eye, Johnson nipped Bowyer at the line by .002 seconds, and Gordon right behind Bowyer. That margin tied the closest finish in NASCAR history. The win gave Johnson his first of the season and his second career win at Talladega.
Two-car tandems were the story of the day. The 30-car packs were a thing of the past with this new style of racing that was introduced in February. Drivers found a partner and worked with them for most of or the entire race. Teamwork is key now at restrictor-plate races. Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. worked together all day; and in the end, it paid off, as Earnhardt Jr. pushed Johnson the push to victory. Johnson knew he would not have won without the help of his teammate. So after the race, he gave Earnhardt the checkered flag. Johnson said, “Can’t thank Junior enough. They are responsible for this win today.”
Earnhardt’s winless streak now stands at 101 races. However, he was still pleased with the outcome of the race. Earnhardt said, “If I couldn’t win the race, then I wanted Jimmie to win the race because I worked with him all day and he’s my teammate, and I wanted him to the race.”
Bowyer was devastated. He was so close to winning, only to have it taken away from him at the finish line. Bowyer had led the most laps of the race, and was trying to win two cup races in a row at Talladega. A disappointed Bowyer said, “What a bummer. I saw him coming. We (Bowyer and Harvick) did everything we could do. Circumstances man, I saw them coming in the mirror.”
“The Big One” is a crash of ten cars or more and is always associated with Daytona and Talladega. There was no “Big One” this time at Talladega, but that did not mean they did not try to have one. Drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman made spectacular saves in the late stages of the race to prevent the “Big One” from happening. However, there were two little ones.
If there was an award for worst driver of the race, then Kurt Busch definitely won that award. He spun three people out and the wrecks he caused took out eight cars.
On lap 90, Busch accidentally turned his teammate Brad Keselowski, and triggered a five-car wreck which also collected Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, and Daytona 500-winner Trevor Bayne. Kahne ended up with the most damage as his nose was crunched, and his car exploded into flames at the entrance of pit road.
The other little one occurred on lap 140. Teammates wrecked each other again. This time Joey Logano turned Kyle Busch and triggered a four-car wreck which also took out Matt Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, and Denny Hamlin (Logano’s other teammate).
Even though Talladega did not produce the big wreck, the race was still entertaining. The Aaron’s 499 was not perfect, but it had its moments. What was boring? Only six cautions and no 30-car pack. What was exciting? The 88 lead changes which tied the all-time record set here last year, the little ones, and the three-wide photo finish, which ended up being only the closest finish in history. Every NASCAR fan will be talking about this finish for the rest of their lives. Talladega always provides excitement. The last eight races at the track have all been decided on the final lap. Enough said. If you are into racing, then Talladega is the place to go.
Images Courtesy of: Autoracingdaily.com (Kyle’s spin), Globaltvcalgary.com (Kahne on fire), brusimm.com (Race-winning move), 26.media.tumblr.com (Cars coming to the line), Hailfaxareanewswatch.com (Grandstand Photo Finish Shot), and media.kansascity.com (Flag Stand Picture of Finish)
Quotes Courtesy of: Fox Sports and ESPN