TALLADEGA, Ala. — Jamie
McMurray held the bottom line at Talladega Superspeedway, one eye on the
finish line and the other in his rearview mirror. He was certain if he
stayed put, Kevin Harvick's lone attempt to pass would be on the
He was wrong.
Harvick ducked low in the
tri-oval at Talladega then drag-raced McMurray to the finish line
Sunday, nipping the Daytona 500 winner for his first victory in over
three years. Harvick had been mired in a 115-race drought dating to the
2007 Daytona 500.
"I'll tell you what, everything
just played out perfect for us," Harvick said in a hurried Victory Lane.
Because rain postponed the Nationwide Series race Saturday, the winner
had to hustle across the garage to run another 312 miles — less than an
hour after winning the longest Talladega race in Sprint Cup series
The race went 200 laps because of
three attempts at NASCAR's version of overtime, and there were a record
88 lead changes among a record 29 drivers.
The last lead change came within
inches of the finish line, and the margin of victory of 0.011 seconds
was the eighth-closest in NASCAR since it began using electronic scoring
A dejected McMurray simply
guessed wrong with the race on the line.
"I really thought that Kevin was
going to go high," McMurray said after his second-place finish. "I felt
like I was close enough to the yellow line that there was a lot more
racetrack to the right. I was really guarding against the outside. It's
hard to explain to you guys that aren't in cars, but when there's
someone directly behind you and they pull their car out of line really
fast, it's like you pull a parachute in your car.
"It literally feels like you lose
three or five miles an hour immediately, and when that happens, the car
that's doing the passing just has the momentum."
Juan Pablo Montoya, a teammate
of McMurray at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, finished third and silently
watched a replay of the finish as he waited to start his post-race
"Wow," he said with a
sympathetic shrug for his teammate.
The race was fairly clean for
the first 465 miles, as drivers simply tried to ensure they'd be around
at the end. That's when the chaos usually breaks out at Talladega, and
Sunday was no exception.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson tangled on the track in the second
consecutive race. Gordon believes Johnson squeezed him down the track
late in the race, triggering a crash that took Gordon out of contention,
and Gordon didn't mask his anger after the race.
"The 48 is testing my patience, I
can tell you that," said Gordon, who finished 22nd. "It takes a lot to
make me mad. I am [mad] right now. I don't know what it is with me and
him right now."
Johnson was later involved in
his own accident, tangling with Greg Biffle on the second attempt at
overtime. Biffle had been second on that restart, but struggled taking
off and dropped back through the field. Johnson had thought he cleared
him, but then drifted into his lane to trigger a crash that sent the
defending four-time champion hard into the inside retaining wall.
That set up the third and final
"green-white-checkered" finish. Before this season, NASCAR made one
attempt at a two-lap sprint to the finish. The week of this year's
season-opener, though, NASCAR decided it would allow up to three
attempts to finish a race under green.
That tweak to the rules cost
Harvick the Daytona 500 — he would have won the season-opener if the
rules had not been changed — but benefited him on Sunday. The three
restarts gave him opportunity to slice his way through traffic; he was
in seventh on the first attempt, fifth on the second and third on the
He immediately hooked on with
McMurray, while Denny Hamlin lined up with Montoya.
"I had a really good restart,
and I'm like, `We got him. I'm with [Hamlin], I'm going to win this,'"
Montoya said. "All of a sudden, the inside just took off."
With Harvick pushing hard on his
bumper, McMurray pulled him far ahead in a two-car breakaway that
ultimately cost him the race.
Harvick had rehearsed his next
move several times this weekend, knowing what he'd do and where on the
track he'd do it if in position to win the race.
"He made the move to the outside
and I jerked left, so I was going the opposite way that he was going,"
he said. "It's kind of like that old theory, if you're the car leading
the race, you don't want to be the one that makes that call. He made the
move to the right and I just went left."
It gave Harvick a victory just
days after sponsor Shell Oil Company announced it was leaving the driver
and owner Richard Childress at the end of the season to move to Penske
Racing. The sponsor shift means Childress, who is trying to re-sign
Harvick, must also shop for funding that can keep the driver at RCR.
"I think it's great karma with
everything that has happened this week with the sponsor and everything,"
he said. "I think it's kind of funny in itself. The karma thing is the
Hamlin finished fourth and was
followed by Mark Martin, David Ragan and Clint Bowyer. Kurt Busch was
eighth, while Kyle Busch and Mike Bliss rounded out the top 10.