What a finish, huh? A strong push from Dale Earnhardt Jr. put Jimmie Johnson in position to win yesterday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega. Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon made it three wide at the finish line, with Johnson taking the victory by .002 seconds—tied with Ricky Craven at Darlington in 2003 for the closest margin of victory since NASCAR started using electronic scoring.
Next week's an off week, no doubt a buzzkill after the excitement of the final few laps of Talladega. So this week's power rankings will have to hold you over for two weeks. I'll do what I can to make it worth your while. Ready?
Edwards led laps 184 and 186 of 188, but he and drafting partner Greg Biffle didn't have what it took to pull off the win at the end. For his troubles, Edwards took sixth place, and maintains a five point lead in the standings. Better yet, he didn't throw his mom's cooking under the bus this weekend (unless I missed something in post-race, and I don't think I did). Probably a good call, with Easter weekend coming up.
You know, folks, I think it's time we all stop complaining and begin to appreciate just how difficult it is to do what Jimmie Johnson does, year in and year out. Undoubtedly it's harder to win in good equipment at the Sprint Cup level than ever before, because there are about 20-plus teams that have a legitimate shot every single weekend. And yet Johnson is basically winning whenever the heck he feels like it. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer—and not just that, they may have to rewrite the eligibility rules just for him to let him in as soon as he retires.
I heard some folks say that Harvick should have been the one in front in this picture, not the one pushing teammate Clint Bowyer. Not sure whether they were just disgruntled Harvick fans or not. Anyway, since team owner Richard Childress had his four cars begin to work together towards the end, and the two Childress customer teams work together as well, some strong combinations got broken up. Harvick and Bowyer went too early in the end and that's what allowed Johnson to get by.
Give Rowdy a lot of credit for the way he's handled the media this year. Instead of blaming teammate Joey Logano for the incident that ended his day, he just cited it as a product of the two-car tango. His car didn't like pushes on the left part of the bumper all day, and it was inevitable that he'd get a push there eventually. He's 38 points off the lead now, sitting in sixth, but his composure is markedly improved from the Kyle Busch most of us think of.
Mark it down: This was Junior's best chance to break his now 101-race winless streak. Jimmie Johnson gave him the checkered flag from the race, because it's 100 percent true that Junior's pushing won it. The two Hendrick teammates, whose teams share a shop within the larger Hendrick complex, got up and went at just the right time. Junior's been great thus far this year, but I get that gut feeling that he'll run into problems not of his own manufacturing in the next two restrictor plate races, which always seem to be his best events.
So if Earnhardt Jr. got to take home the checkered flag, does Busch get to take home the yellow flag? Both Busch in the NASCAR race and Helio Castroneves in the IndyCar race seemed to be doing demonstration work for mutual sponsor AAA, causing some pretty big accidents in the process, and even taking out teammates Brad Keselowski and Will Power, respectively. It was a long day for Roger Penske, no doubt.
36th place is no way to continue the momentum from winning the previous week at Texas. Kenseth got caught up in somebody else's mess (that's him on the left side, right next to Kyle Busch) and dropped five spots to eighth in points, 43 out of the lead.
Strange bedfellows always prevail in restrictor-plate races, but Bowyer had one of the strangest. A few years removed from calling Michael Waltrip the "worst driver on the track" at Bristol, Waltrip pushed Bowyer into the lead and certainly contributed to the race-high 38 laps led by the No. 33 team. Teammate Kevin Harvick got Bowyer to the front on lap 185, but there are 188 laps in the race. They tried to bide their time, but in the end, went just a bit too early, and Bowyer lost the race by .002 of a second. Heartbreaking.
Newman spun on the backstretch with 13 laps to go and finished 25th, so it wasn't the greatest day in the world for the Rocket. What he can take out of the weekend, though, is that his mid-pack finish was significantly better than two of the other top-eight drivers in points, as at least he finished on the lead lap.
All in all, Menard had a reasonably decent weekend, finishing 12th after starting fifth and leading a respectable four laps, taking his own turn at the front like most of the field did. He's hanging on the fringes of the top 10, only three points out of 10th, which is currently occupied by teammate Clint Bowyer.
Yeah...see that? That damage on the right front fender there? That's not good. That's part of the reason why Montoya finished 11 laps down in 30th. A big part of the reason, actually. No, all of the reason. He's now ninth in points, 49 out of the lead and only a single point ahead of Clint Bowyer for 10th.
Gordon has been like my beloved Boston Bruins all season—as streaky as it gets. Gordon's either showing up to race and driving like he was in his heyday of 1995-1998, or he's driving like he still has chronic back issues. Phoenix and Talladega were great runs, and if Mark Martin hadn't lost the push in the final 100 yards or so Gordon could've made a close finish even closer. But on other weekends, he's been the guy to bear the brunt of the "last Hendrick car always stinks" curse. Will the real Jeff Gordon please stand up?
Watching those two cars working together made all the sense in the world. But every time I think about it, envisioning Martin and Jeff Gordon working together still feels weird. Not even just weird, but almost dirty. What a weird world we live in, when the sport's biggest rivals of the late 1990s are now teammates working out of the same shop.
Stewart had nothing but love for the guys over at Front Row Motorsports on Sunday. He kept declining to work with other cars in favor of Travis Kvapil at first, and when he lost that connection, he began to work with David Gilliland, who's gained a reputation (along with Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne) as a great pusher on a smaller team that seems to excel on the restrictor plates. Unfortunately for Stewart, the hookup didn't last through the end of the race, as Gilliland took ninth while Stewart dropped to 17th.
Buoyed by a contract extension signed during the week (for those wondering, that explains the "Three for three more years!" on the hood), Biffle pushed teammate Carl Edwards late in the race. The Roush Fenway Racing teammates took a pair of respectable top-10 finishes. Biffle, for his part, has climbed out of a hole that saw him in the high 30s in points at the end of February, sitting 74 points off the lead in 16th. Tenth place Clint Bowyer is 24 ahead; the driver directly behind him, Denny Hamlin, is 26 behind. There's nowhere else to go but up in the short term.
Allmendinger, despite finishing 11th, actually lost spots in the points, because of the strong finishes by Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. Eleventh was still a heck of a recovery for the 'Dinger, after this lap 141 spin that fit quite nicely with the rest of the incident that involved all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars.
Other than the fact that he gets to hang out with Michael Jordan now, I'm not sure what reason Hamlin has to be smiling. Another middling finish (23rd) has him 17th in points. Making up the 26 points on 16th place Greg Biffle probably won't happen over the course of a single race weekend; making up the 50 on 10th place Clint Bowyer mathematically isn't possible. It's a long way to fall from the top, eh?
While he expertly maneuvered his flaming vehicle as close to the pits as he could, and while the fire extinguishing material that coated the car may have provided inspiration for a cool Red Bull commercial with NASCAR racing in the snow, this was clearly not the way Kasey wanted his day to go.
Truex and David Reutimann, Michael Waltrip Racing teammates, used their "NAPA Know How" (am I allowed to do that, editors?), as well as some lessons from their restrictor-plate-savant owner, to score decent 13th and 14th place finishes, respectively. Truex led as late as lap 173 before falling down the field.
If you don't feel bad for the guy leading this pack, then you don't have a soul. After working excellently with Kevin Harvick all day, Blaney was reassigned to work with Regan Smith (not a half bad consolation prize, though) and later ended up with the front bumper of Kurt Busch pushing him. Alas, Busch wasn't anybody's best friend, and Blaney had to make a desperate save before winding up 27th. What a shame. We all love underdog winners, and Blaney would've been as much of one as ever. Plus, a whole bunch of kids would've eaten free at the Golden Corral today. So it goes.