What we expected prior to Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway was the “Big One.” Instead, what we got was two-car drafting and a photo finish.
As is the nature of the beast, only a few cars drove away unscathed and fans were breathless as eight cars battled for the win on the last lap.
Though we pay no mind to starting order at Talladega Superspeedway, it played a factor in today’s race. Hendrick Motorsports’ cars qualified in the top four positions and ended the race all within the top eight.
Sunday's margin of victory was an astonishing .002 seconds; tying the record (set in 2003 at Darlington between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch) since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993.
In turn four of the last lap, it was still uncertain who would win. Four two-car packs had momentum and were eager to push to the front.
Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin seemed to be the team to beat until Martin pulled away from Gordon, most likely to pass him for the win. The disconnect cost Gordon the win and Martin a second place finish.
The pairs of Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been strong all day, surged to the front crossing the start/finish line at virtually the same time. Johnson’s nose was ever so slightly in front of Bowyer’s and he claimed victory.
Johnson has gone 15 races without victory, a small percentage of the 100 races Earnhardt has accumulated winless. Johnson acknowledged the large part that Earnhardt played in the win by giving him the checkered flag.
“I can’t thank Jr. enough,” Johnson said. “He made the decision that my car was faster and decided for us to get the win for Hendrick."
Earnhardt was all smiles as well saying, "We all finished very well and that’s a tribute to the craftsmanship we have up there in Charlotte.”
But the day wasn’t all smooth sailing; it never is at this track. And though the cars weren’t in large packs, that didn’t stop a spin-out or two from collecting others in its wake.
Most notably was the crash on Lap 90 involving Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Trevor Bayne.
Kurt Busch got Keselowski loose and sent him spinning at the same time that Ragan was experiencing engine trouble. The result ended the day for many of the favorites to win the race.
Perhaps possessing the most potential was Bayne, who had all eyes on him for domination at a second restrictor plate race.
“I saw the 6 car blowing up in front of us,” Bayne said. “At the same time, the 2 car got hooked so I went to the apron then someone got us in the right rear.
"I thought we were fast and could make it to the end but unfortunately we couldn’t.”
Kyle Busch, who drove his mangled Toyota Camry to Victory Lane on Saturday, could not recover from the crash he was involved in on Lap 140.
Contact between him and Joey Logano sent Busch into Matt Kenseth. A.J. Allmendinger and Denny Hamlin were involved but were relatively unaffected.
Kenseth commented on the wreck and overall racing style, saying, “It’s not the safest environment out there. You’re watching at spoiler at 200 mph.
"I don’t know if this racing is good to watch or not, but it’s not that much fun to be in.”
Busch had no comment on the situation, but then again, who could blame him?
The 33, 24, 88, and 29 rounded out the top-five running order. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series has a week off next weekend. They will be rolling into Richmond International Raceway for some night racing on April 30th.