TMS's Most Shocking, The 2001 Talladega 500; One to Cherish Forever.
It was April 22, 2001.
It was the first restrictor plate race since the passing of Dale Earnhardt, and since the restictor plate dominator was gone, fans were wondering who would emerge as the new favorite to win at restrictor plate tracks.
I woke up and went to my grandfathers house, where all of the great races seem to take place, and Stacy Compton mysteriously took car No. 92 to the pole position in the Melling Dodge.
It was an odd start, to an extremely odd, and overly exciting day, at the great Talladega Superspeedway.
The three front runners of the whole day were Sterling Marlin, Tony Stewart, and the guy who everyone thought was going to win the race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
It was an extraordinarily hot day at Talladega, adding for great racing the whole race, with 26 of the 43 drivers swapping the lead 29 times, and making it exciting for the whole race.
In the middle of the pack, the majority of the day, were two struggling teammates, Joe Nemechek, and Bobby Hamilton, who were driving for "little guy" Andy Petree, and those two were making some heads turn.
Hamilton was having an awesome start to 2001, being seventh in the points to start the season, but Nemechek was a dismal 32nd.
Yet, they were still up front in the beginning of the race, making people think.
Nemechek took the lead on lap 69, and people thought it was one of those cars that was going to fall off as the race went on.
It didn't and by the end of the race came, he was teamed up with teammate Bobby Hamilton.
The Petree cars were powered by Childress engines, and were running extremely well, even in the hot conditions.
Still, people didn't think that APR would beat Gibbs, and Roush, and DEI, and Hendrick.
On lap 161, Tony Stewart, who had a strong car, the whole day, wrestled the lead away from Sterling Marlin, and it looked like Stewart was on his way to win the Talladega 500.
Like every other Talladega race, it started to get really racey at the end, and everyone anticipated the big one would happen.
But as the laps started to tick away, drivers started to charge toward the front, making their final moves to get into position to win.
Nemechek linked behind teammate Hamilton and started to charge towards the front with only three laps to go.
I was watching this race and was looking at the front of Tony Stewart's car on the low side, and Kurt Busch's car right behind him, and I was so focused on those two cars, I didn't even seem to notice what was happening behind them.
Hamilton, and Nemechek were making a run for it.
And by the end of the superstrectch, the blue hood of the Square D Chevrolet shot out in front of the two lead lap cars, and left me saying "Wow, look at Hamilton."
My family was sitting down to dinner, and a family of not so many race fans heads were glued to the television.
Dale, Jr. linked with the two Petree cars, and got other people to join, it was about to get really interesting, a high line was beginning to form.
Mike Wallace's Ford joined with the Chevy's and Hamilton was about to take the lead on the superstrech, with one and a half laps to go.
As that was going on, Bobby Labonte was starting an even higher line of car's to go above Hamilton's line, and make it even more interesting.
Stewart got a run off of four, and Kurt Bush, pushed Stewart about four car lengths in front of everyone else, making Stewart, a sitting duck.
Tony was trying to block both packs for the time being, and realized he better choose a line, or Busch and Hamilton were going to split him.
So he took the line that got him there, the low line, and off of the tri-oval, Hamilton lead to the start/finish line by a nose, with the white flag waving.
Hamilton was now in the position that Tony was just a turn earlier.
Trying to block two packs at once.
On the superstrech, all of the cars that were in the middle groove with Hamilton, switched lines, leaving Nemechek and Jr. to fight for themselves, and making Hamilton decide, that the low line, was the one to block.
Mark Martin was the only car to get out of the lower lane, and switch to the middle just for a second, before pulling up in front of Bobby Labonte with a lot of momentum into turn four.
Nemechek and Junior faded off of four, for the final time, and the high groove wasn't making a run, making the low lane the only one for Hamilton to block.
Hamilton got a push from Stewart off of the tri oval, and finished off the most impressing win in NASCAR in a long time.
The No. 55 team was going crazy, not expecting to be in victory lane in a race where they started 14th.
Bobby got to victory lane and needed oxygen at the end of a hot day.
When he was able to speak, the respectful, and lovable Hamilton apologized to Joe Nemechek for leaving him, but thank Joe, and Dale, Jr. for pushing him to the front.
It served as the last Cup Series win, that Bobby Hamilton would ever get.
Andy Petree Racing, folded, at the end of the next season, and forgotten about.
Except for this win.
This is one that will stick with everyone, forever.
An outstanding finish, to an outstanding race.
This is the type of race that makes restrictor plate racing so great.
When the checkered flag came out, everyone was disappointed, not at the winner, but because it was the end to a great race.
Making this one a race to cherish forever, and strengthening the legacy of Bobby Hamilton.
R.I.P. Bobby, thanks for the memory, that was an awesome finish, to a great driver's career.
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