When Push Came to Shove

Junior and Jimmie Johnson at Talladega

Dale Jr: “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.” (photo courtesy: Chris Graythen, Getty Images Sport)

Sunday’s race at Talladega concluded with a pack of eight cars spread out four wide across the track, all crossing the finish line within a blink of the eye. It took video replays to conclude that five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson had nipped Clint Bowyer for the victory by 0.002 seconds, matching the closest margin of victory since NASCAR began using electronic timing.

“When you’re four wide coming across the finish line, that’s a pretty good race,” Johnson said. “There was just so much going on at the end of that thing coming to the stripe.

It originally appeared that the sprint to the finish would come down to a battle between Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who was being pushed by Mark Martin, and Bowyer, who was being pushed by Kevin Harvick. But as that quartet came out of Turn 4 and entered the tri-oval, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. dipped down to the low side and barely squeezed past the Gordon-Martin combo.

Meanwhile, just before the pack reached the finish line, defending Ford 400 Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle got into the mix on the high side near the wall, and all eight cars roared across the line within a fraction of a second of each other. Gordon finished third, Earnhardt fourth, Harvick fifth, Edwards sixth, Biffle seventh and Martin eighth. Edwards maintains the Championship points lead and was a popular preseason pick to unseat five-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson this fall when NASCAR crowns a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets today with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [here] or call (866) 409-RACE.

“If you didn’t like that finish, you’re crazy,” Bowyer said. “That was an unbelievable finish. I hope people enjoyed it, because it looked pretty wild through the windshield.”

The final pass occurred at the last possible moment. Gordon and Bowyer ran side by side in the middle of the track through Turns 3 and 4, enabling the Johnson-Earnhardt combo to make a late charge through the tri-oval.

Bowyer said he was hoping that Gordon and Martin would shift toward the bottom of the track in an effort to block Johnson, a move that Bowyer felt would have given him the victory.

“I saw them coming, and (Gordon) and I were drag racing off each other and trying to break each other’s momentum,” Bowyer said. “I was like, ‘Oh no. Block ‘em, block, ‘em.’ I knew if they had dipped down to block them, that we had the race won. But we came up just short. It’s frustrating.”

Earnhardt said he was willing to push his Hendrick Motorsports teammate to the victory because their tandem did not seem to work as well when Earnhardt’s car was in front and Johnson was doing the pushing. NASCAR’s most popular driver Earnhardt, Jr. finished fourth and jumped three spots in the points to third place. To the thrill of the crowd, he led 11 laps during his four times at the point. That’s a nice spot for Earnhardt Jr. to be in as he has failed to make the Chase For The Sprint Cup the last two years. The Chase will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 18-20. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets today with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [here] or call (866) 409-RACE.

“I was more comfortable pushing Jimmie. I think that way was the faster combination for us,” Earnhardt said. “When we got to the white flag (indicating one lap to go), I got on the radio and told Jimmie not to lift, no matter what.”

Johnson never did, and afterward he gave Earnhardt the checkered flag to thank him for his help in getting Johnson to Victory Lane. So while his winless streak hit 101, Earnhardt Jr. has had five Top 10 finishes in eight races this year.

“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,” said Earnhardt post-race. “This was a great finish and a great weekend for us to be able to qualify like we did, race like we did and we have awesome engines and we build great cars and we all finished very well today.”

With the victory, the reigning NASCAR Champion climbed to second in the Sprint Cup Series standings. NASCAR will crown its Champions at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 18-20. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets today with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [here] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, April 30 (7 p.m. ET, Fox TV, MRN Radio)—Race 9 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 18-20). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 20. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets today with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [here] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Miami’s Montoya Remains in the Top 10

Montoya at Talladega

Miami's own Juan Pablo Montoya made his stock car racing debut at Talladega in an ARCA car in 2006 . Montoya was the pole-sitter for the fall race in 2010 and won his first career pole there in the spring of 2009. The 2008 spring event marked his best finish at the Superspeedway (2nd) and he was looking to improve that finish by one position Sunday. However, he finished 30th after tangling with Ryan Newman in the later stages of the race. Despite the poor result in Alabama, after eight races Montoya has recorded two Top 5s, and four Top 10 finishes on the year.

“Well, I don’t think it was his (Ryan Newman) fault you know," said Montoya. "I was talking to the guys and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) is always impatient here and always causes a lot of wrecks and he just did it again."

Montoya’s 30th place finish finds him sitting ninth in the points standings—just six points behind Matt Kenseth for eightth—in his Chase for a Sprint Cup Championship on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Montoya became the first non-American born driver to make the Chase For the Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2009 and looks to make a return trip in 2011. The Chase will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 18-20.

This year he’s been in a lot of wrecks," continued Montoya. "I don’t want to blame anybody. It’s just restrictor plate racing. The caution never came out and that kind of sucked.”

Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets TODAY with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for Montoya and NASCAR’s best is Talladega Supersepeedway on Sunday, April 17 (1 pm ET, FOX TV, MRN Radio)—Race 8 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekendat Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 18-20). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 20.

Follow Montoya on Twitter:

@JPMontoya

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@HomesteadMiami

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