Which means the race will be forever be a part of NASCAR lore. And why should it not be?
Jimmie Johnson nipped Clint Bowyer in a wild, four-car finish by .002-second, which was, again, the closest finish in NASCAR’s history since the introduction of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.
It tied Ricky Craven’s victory over Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003, a race since pronounced by many, NASCAR included, as “One For The Ages.”
Reckon Johnson and Bowyer are now part of another “One For The Ages.”
See, Craven and Busch battled at Darlington, a crusty, old, unforgiving track where such things as aerodynamics and drafting manipulated by NASCAR legislation – all widely despised by some – play no role. A driver’s skill, it’s said, has always been more important to success at Darlington than it has at Talladega or Daytona, where achievement is simply about the proper negotiation of the draft.
This includes a productive association with a partner, something hardly required at Darlington, where it is man against man.
And when it’s man against man they say THAT is racing.
Fair enough – but that does not always apply to fundamental beating and banging. There’s more to it than that. Dealing with the draft is part of it.
I am certain many who follow NASCAR do not, and likely never will, accept the style of restrictor-plate racing that has evolved today at Daytona and Talladega. And you know what it is. Two cars hook up in the draft and try their best to remain that way and, eventually, get the better of all the others who have done the same thing.
Hence, those who do not approve of this type of racing won’t likely consider any finish at Daytona or Talladega – however exciting – as anything more than a product of the contrived circumstances created by NASCAR and its rules.
OK, that’s their opinion. Here’s another: balderdash.
What Johnson achieved at Talladega is still monumental and historic, just as much as what Craven did at Darlington.
Who cares about the so-called “contrived circumstances?” Johnson won at a track in which the conditions and rules, and all involved therein, applied to everyone, just as Craven did at Darlington. It would have been the same for either of them, or any other driver, if they had won at Richmond, Chicago, Sonoma, Atlanta – you name it. The style of racing at every NASCAR speedway is different and requires competitors and teams to adapt as best as possible – and that involves car preparation and on-track strategy and includes Talladega.
So let’s put what is now restrictor-plate racing at that speedway aside, shall we? It is simply another part of what competition, week in and out, is all about – and to which teams must adapt.
What we saw in the Aaron’s 499 was one of the most exciting and truly unpredictable finishes in NASCAR’s history.
In Turn 3 on the last lap, Johnson, who had pretty much been out of our attention for most of the race, was running in fifth place, pushed by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., his constant companion throughout the race.
Ahead of Johnson were the cars of Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.
At the checkered flag, Johnson, with Earnhardt Jr.’s help, found the low side of the track, just above the double yellow line, and won the race by a mere fraction of an inch over Bowyer.
It was so reminiscent of rookie Ron Bouchard’s victory at Talladega in 1981. Darrell Waltrip was leading on the last lap and battling Terry Labonte. Labonte had the high side of the track. Waltrip, in an effort to keep Labonte at bay, slid upwards to apply pressure. Neither he nor Labonte noticed Bouchard, then in third place, charge to the inside, following the gap left open to him
Bouchard, a native of Massachusetts, nipped both Waltrip and Labonte. It was an improbable victory and the only one of his NASCAR Cup career.
Johnson’s victory, his first of the season, ended his 15-race losing streak.
It was the 54th of his career, which ties him with Lee Petty for ninth on NASCAR’s all-time list.
His win was the eighth of the past 12 at Talladega that have been achieved with a last-lap pass.
Certainly, given the circumstances, Johnson’s victory was every bit as improbable as Bouchard’s.
And it was every bit as dramatic and exciting.
No matter what some might think of the style of racing at Talladega and the disdain they have for it, that changes nothing.
The Aaron’s 499 is now, and deservedly so, a part of NASCAR lore.