Jamie McMurray Wins Wild Talladega Race, Jimmie Johnson Dodges Doom

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst INovember 2, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - NOVEMBER 01:  Jamie McMurray, driver of the #26 IRWIN Marathon Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on November 1, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

In the case of two completely different and talented drivers, as a 1980 song from the Beach Boys goes, "You Need Good Timin'" to be successful in some perilous situations in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

On paper, the 2009 AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway looked like another exciting restrictor plate race for the record books.

However, fans were treated to rather pedestrian racing, with drivers opting to negotiate the 2.66-mile facility in single-file formation until the finish.

And boy, was it a wild one.

Within a five-lap window, about every Chase contender not named Jimmie Johnson found themselves collected in separate multi-car accidents, damaging their machines, championship hopes, as well as bruising some egos.

While the smoke and sheet metal flew on the track surface, 33-year-old hard luck racer Jamie McMurray triumphed, winning his third career Cup race, while three-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson relished his sixth-place finish.

The victory snapped a two-year, 86-race winless streak, in which McMurray, the Roush-Fenway Racing driver, won his last race at the other plate track, AKA Daytona.

"I made the comment...it's going to be luck," McMurray said following the race per AP Auto Racer writer Jenna Fryer's report . "Whoever can get in the right row and make the moves (will win)."

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

McMurray's story, overshadowed by the Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers and storylines, gets a bit intriguing as the 2003 Rookie of the Year looks to make his case for a Cup ride next season.

Although McMurray's odds of staying with his current team are slim to none, his victory will serve notice to team owners looking for a capable talent as well as curious companies looking to make a splash into the Cup ranks.

Various rumors link the eighth-year driver to the No. 1 Chevrolet of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, which is currently one of the few respectable rides available in the somewhat thin free agent market.

For the meantime, the Joplin, Mo., native looks to conclude his 2009 campaign on a stellar note, with Sunday's victory at Talladega giving the No. 26 team quite the shot in the arm.

In essence, McMurray revitalized his career and served notice to prospective employers of his talents provided he truly is at the right place and right time. On Sunday, the former young gun certainly proved his worth and mettle as a stock car racer.

As for the Chase contenders, Talladega may have well been the ultimate opportunity for Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Juan Pablo Montoya to slash into their deficits to Jimmie Johnson.

After all, "The Big One" generally occurs and typically does not discriminate who it wipes out, whether it is the underdog, independent driver struggling to field their operation to a world-class champion.

Well, those drivers who were going for the Cup will probably race for pride and second place, as they were simply outmatched and short on the fortune department in comparison to the three-time defending champion.

Gordon perfectly summed up his sentiments, as well as the other challengers, about Sunday's disappointment with a touch of sarcasm.

"I'm glad we ran out of fuel when we did so we could get back out there and destroy our car," said Gordon, who, along with Martin, have only a mathematical chance at the championship.

Both drivers, along with Montoya, ran out of fuel following a red flag period for Ryan Newman's harrowing crash with five laps remaining. When the yellow flag was unfurled, so was luck for the No. 5, 24, and 42 teams.

Those three teams, with the assistance of the towing vehicles, pitted for fuel, restarted deep in the field, and found themselves collected in a grinding accident that shortened the green-white-checkered finish of the event.

Martin's Chevy slid on its roof in the front chute and tri-oval, sending his fellow competitors in a frenzy as to which lane to choose in avoiding the No. 5 machine. Instead, his fellow title racers found themselves collected in the melee.

When pressed to answer various questions about the wild conclusion of the AMP Energy 500, about every driver could only shrug and say, "That's Talladega."

Except for McMurray and Johnson, as both men had to feel like they both conquered the 40-year-old asphalt monster. In the case of JJ, it was an absolute relief and pleasant surprise to come home in one piece.

"We made it. I really have to give Chad credit for coming in and pitting and putting fuel in the car," Johnson said following his sixth-place finish. "That's what set us up for this great finish."

Johnson opens up a 184-point margin over teammate Martin, followed by Gordon (-192), Juan Pablo Montoya (-239), and Tony Stewart (-279).

About the only hope for Martin and company to have a prayer at the title is for the No. 48 Lowe's team to have uncharacteristic problems in the final three races at Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead-Miami.

But even then, the odds of that happening are like Johnson's naysayers in 2001, who probably felt skeptical at best about the El Cajon, Calif., native's chances to even make it in the Sprint Cup Series.

Talladega was statistically the 34-year-old's worst track, averaging a 17.7th-place finish, so his sixth-place result was a tremendous moral and psychological victory.

What will it take for Johnson to stumble down the stretch? Perhaps mechanical gremlins or an on-track mishap, but those seldom happen.

Then again, when you're on top of your game, nary does a problem diminish your performances and results on the field.

If a sport ever belonged to an athlete, the Sprint Cup Series is definitely owned by Johnson, who has not looked back since 2006.