TALLADEGA, Ala. — Jamie McMurray was the
unlikely winner of an uncharacteristically dull race at Talladega
Superspeedway, where a ban on bump-drafting forced most competitors to
treat the event as a slow Sunday drive.
The day started with a stern warning from
NASCAR president Mike Helton against the aggressive driving that has
turned Talladega into the most exciting track on the circuit. What
followed was an anesthetized first 450 miles, with long periods of
single-file traffic and no driver willing to defy NASCAR's order not to
bump through the corners.
But the action picked up with roughly 20 laps
remaining, and with it came the typical Talladega mayhem. Ryan Newman's
harrowing crash with five laps to go left him upside down in the grass,
and NASCAR needed a stoppage of almost 13 minutes to cut him from the
That set up a two-lap sprint to the finish,
and that was halted when championship contender Mark Martin went
flipping across the track in his own spectacular crash.
The race ended under caution, with McMurray in
Victory Lane for the first time in 86 races. Jimmie Johnson, meanwhile,
likely wrapped up his NASCAR-record fourth-consecutive championship
because of all the late action.
Because Johnson spent most of the race
puttering around the back of the pack, he was stuck back in the mid-20s
when Newman crashed. Crew chief Chad Knaus sensed a lengthy delay and
quickly called Johnson in for gas — a decision that may have clinched
When cars ahead of him in the running order
began to run out of gas because of the red-flag delay, Johnson vaulted
up in the standings. The final finishing order showed him in eighth,
but he was adamant he finished sixth.
After a lengthy review, Johnson was indeed
credited with a sixth-place finish that stretched his lead in the
standings to 184 points over Martin with three races remaining.
"From where we were with the red flag to where
we finished, I'm still in shock," Johnson said. "I can't believe that
it worked out. I can't believe that many guys ran out of fuel and put
themselves in that position."
It was the final hurdle in Johnson's path
because his 17.7 average finish at Talladega is his worst of the 10
races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He had dreaded
Sunday's race because of the unknowns that come with the
horsepower-sapping restrictor plates that are used to control the high
speeds at the 2.66-mile track.
"I was so concerned about this race," he
admitted. "I thought I was going to lose points with about three or
four (laps) to go. So to have it turn around and lead with points over
the guys, I didn't expect it."
Aside from Johnson and McMurray, who snapped
an 86-race winless streak dating to Daytona in July 2007, few drivers
were happy with the final outcome.
That's usually the way it goes at Daytona and
Talladega, the two places were the plates are used and the final
results rarely reflect what actually happened. Bump-drafting has become
a necessary evil as drivers jockey for position in the tight packs,
conditions five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said left them
"at the mercy of the whole field.
"I don't think it's acceptable. I feel lucky
that I didn't wreck," he said after an 11th-place finish. "We show up
to bust our (butt) to get our cars to handle right and do right
everywhere else, but when you come here, you just sit in the bus, wait
for the damn race to start and see what your number is at the end of
the deal. It's a lottery."
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