Talladega, AL (Sports Network) -
This one was as good as it gets if you're an auto racing fan.
Sunday's 500-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway was an edge of your seat thriller that couldn't have been scripted any better. And who better to be the stars in this suspense than Jimmie Johnson, the record five-time defending series champion, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's most popular driver.
All of last week, we heard clever cliches such as "dancing with the cars," "speed dating" and "it takes two to tango" to describe the two-car tandems at Talladega. It became nauseating to read and hear these hackneyed phrases over and over, but the two-car drafts made Talladega the cliffhanger that it was.
Earnhardt Jr. amusingly referred to this two-car stuff as "silly" and "a bunch of crap."
Ironically, Earnhardt Jr. was the one who partnered with Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, and pushed him to victory in what was one heck of a photo finish.
In a race that featured 88 lead changes among 26 drivers, Johnson crossed the finish line just 0.002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.
Johnson's margin of victory tied the closest finish in NASCAR's top-tier series since the sanctioning body began using electronic timing and scoring in 1993. Ricky Craven nipped Kurt Busch by the same margin in the 2003 spring race at Darlington.
The slimmest margin in a NASCAR national touring series race occurred in July 1995 when Butch Miller edged Mike Skinner by a razor-thin 0.001 seconds in a 200-lap truck event at the 3/8-mile Colorado National Speedway in Dacono, CO.
Jimmie Johnson's margin of victory tied the closest finish in NASCAR's top-tier series since the sanctioning body began using electronic timing and scoring.
With packs of cars crossing the line four wide, the top-eight finishers at Talladega were all within a couple of car lengths from each other. Now that's an ending.
It's amazing this one didn't conclude in a major pileup, like we've seen in the past finishes here.
Maybe this tag team racing on the restrictor plate tracks (Talladega and Daytona) isn't such a bad thing after all.
"From my perspective, we were complaining with the old package and riding side-by-side and not enough passes for the lead, and there was always the big wreck," Johnson said. "Now we have a ton of passes for the lead, and statistically you look at the race and it looks pretty awesome.
"From a driver standpoint, we have a lot more control now with what we can do. Yes, it is still plate racing. You can make stuff happen, and there is a technique required to stay together and to work traffic together and to communicate, and it puts it back in the driver's hands a lot more than the old combination of racing."
Last October, Bowyer won at Talladega in a frantic finish. Bowyer barely pulled ahead of his Richard Childress Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick, when NASCAR displayed the caution flag for a multi-car crash on the final lap. The race ended under caution.
Finishing second this time around wasn't exactly satisfying for Bowyer, especially by the slimmest of margins.
"Hell, no, that sucks," Bowyer jokingly said. "It's never very good to know you made NASCAR history by losing. Sooner or later, I need to start making history by winning. That guy [Johnson] has won enough."
Earnhardt Jr. wound up finishing fourth, one spot behind Jeff Gordon, who got drafting help from Mark Martin during the final laps.
"In my opinion, Talladega has always been about a 15 to 25-lap race, and the rest is just trying to get to the end," Gordon said. "That's basically what we have now. If you want to survive and you want to make it to the finish, you have to either choose to try to push to stay up front or ride in the back."
The next Talladega blockbuster is scheduled for October 23rd.