When Sterling Marlin was sidelined with a neck injury late in the 2002 Winston Cup season, it opened the door for several other championship hopefuls. Coming into the 2002 EA Sports 500 at Talladega, one such hopeful was rookie sensation Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR fans witnessed history the week before at Kansas when Johnson left the weekend as the first rookie to ever lead the Winston Cup points. Due to that, when qualifying was rained out at Talladega, Johnson claimed the pole by default while perennial title contender Mark Martin started on the outside pole.
Things changed before the green flag even had a chance to be picked up.
While warming the tires, the steering on Martin's No. 6 Ford locked up, and he shot back down the track and into Johnson.
Martin clipped the right front of Johnson's No. 48, causing significant damage to both cars and sending both into the grass. In the ensuing chaos, Martin was black-flagged and forced to come to pit road to correct the problem while Johnson started the race.
However, Johnson too came onto pit road almost immediately after to fix the damage done to his Chevrolet. Both drivers would go on to have dismal days, as Martin would finish 30th, two laps down, and Johnson would suffer a debilitating engine failure that left him 37th in the end.