NASCAR drivers have learned to pick up speed during plate races at Daytona and Talladega by racing in tandem. Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 race at Talladega Superspeedway was mix of tandem drafting, a record-setting 88 lead changes, six caution flags for 24 laps as some multi-car crashes occurred. The lack of a really “big one”, a crash that collects many cars at once, was about the only surprise.
Considering each driver pushing another is basically blind and dependent upon a spotter and the other driver for his eyes, the severity of the crashes that happened could have been much worse.
The question of whether tandem racing makes for a desirable show became lost in the four-wide, dual car jam at the finish line. Jimmie Johnson won by an incredible .002—can’t carve up a second much smaller—which ties the closest margin set in 2003 at Darlington.
The eight cars at the start-finish line seeking the checkered flag looked welded as they fought to get the win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pushing Johnson as they went over the line. To thank him for that needed assistance, Jimmie Johnson gave the checkered flag to Earnhardt before going to victory lane.
The top five finishers, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick commented on the race and the exciting finish.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com. Quotes and information derived from team and sanction press releases.
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet) Finished first.
“Can't thank Junior enough,” Johnson said. “He made the decision that my car was faster leading, and the way these things have been finishing up, that lead car is going to have the win so in some respects he was more worried about the team having a good performance than anything.
“We would preserve our bumpers; preserve our engines and the water temp and just kind of ride. We did a good job of riding and taking care of our stuff. Missed some wrecks and just did a good job of managing things all day.”
Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Chevrolet) Finished second.
"We did everything we could do,” Bowyer said. “The BB&T Chevrolet, she did everything she could do. Just all hell broke loose is exactly what happened but that's what makes this place awesome. It is a good finish for us. Very frustrated that we didn't get the win.
“I hope the fans enjoyed that finish, that's what Talladega is all about and that's why these people come out by the hundred thousandths to this place.”
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet) Finished third.
“We took the lead coming to the white flag, and it was just a little bit too early, but we had the momentum, and we got the pass done, and we just had to ride it out from that point on,” Gordon said. “You know we blocked the bottom and the 29 and 33 got on the outside of us and we were maintaining a drag race there and that just opened up a slot there for the guys behind us to get momentum and to get to the inside of us.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet) Finished fourth.
“I was more comfortable pushing Jimmie, and I think we were the more faster combination pushing that way,” Earnhardt said. “For some reason when I was leading, I would drive off his nose and even running quarter throttle I would just get away from him and we couldn’t stay together. So we just kind of hung in there, and we got clear of the pack coming to the white, and I told Jimmie just to not lift no matter what, and he was telling me ‘alright’.
"And if I couldn’t win the race, I wanted Jimmie to win the race because I had worked with him all day, and he is my teammate, and I am proud to be driving for Hendrick Motorsports and this was a great finish.”
Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet) Finished fifth.
“You just push for all you’re might there at the end. If the No. 48 would have just locked up behind us we would have been in the right line, but he went to the bottom and had a lane down there and won the race. All you can ask for here is a chance, and everybody on our Budweiser Chevy did a great job, and when it's rolling at that finish, you usually have a good finish.
“As the second car, you have the wonderful job of pushing, and that's all you can do because there is nowhere to go. So, just pushed him as hard as I could and we came up a little bit short.
“It was pretty wild there at the end. It was just a lot of fun, and I'm just glad we finished one of these speedway races. Anytime you can roll out of Talladega with a finish, you did all right."
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com