NASCAR: Round 9 – Aaron’s 499, Talladega – April 25

The Aaron’s 499 started with the features we expect from Talladega – three-wide running at the front of the pack for extended periods, with fortunes rising and falling as cars teamed up to find the draft and briefly surge from nowhere to the front, or just as suddenly fall backwards twenty places in as many seconds as they found themselves stranded without support.

Lead changes came at an astonishing pace through to lap 20 when there was the first (competition) caution of the afternoon, with Kurt and Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, David Ragan and Jeff Burton all heading up the field albeit briefly. Meanwhile a gaggle of drivers were opting for a completely different stratagy, opting to stick in a small pack well away from the main group: among them were EGR team mates Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, who after a string of disappointing results seemed to be putting getting to the line by staying out of trouble at the top of their to-do list.

The pattern resumed once the track went green again, this time for over fifty laps before the first true caution came out on lap 76 for a spin across the in-field grass by Denny Hamlin, reacting to Michael Waltrip brushing the wall. The first multi-car wreck of the afternoon came on lap 84, triggered by Johnny Sauter getting into the wall. Early leaders Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler were among those caught out and who needed to pit for repairs; the incident didn’t seem to hold Kyle back for long though and he was back in the lead again during the next green flag stint – as were Ryan Newman, Travis Kvapil, Jimmie Johnsin, David Reutimann, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith. None of them got the huge cheer that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had got earlier in the afternoon when he had led for several single laps.

Regan Smith’s fun was soon over when his engine expired on lap 100, bringing out the fourth caution of the day. In the next part of the race, AJ Allmendinger featured several times in the lead alongside more familiar faces such as Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch again, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin and David Ragan. Even Juan Montoya got points for leading laps 147 through 151, despite the “stay-at-the-back” strategy, as the field cycled through green flag pit stops. Shortly afterwards, Montoya and Jamie McMurray got serious about moving up into position, using each other for drafting all the way to the front for real.

As the race got to the sharp end and the racing got serious, there was a predictable increase in incidents: Bobby Labonte got turned around by David Reutimann on lap 176 bringing out out a yellow, and a sixth caution followed on lap 183 when Jeff Gordon collected Scott Speed and the two slide through the grass at turn 3, also collecting Jeff Burton. Gordon was furious – at his team mate, Jimmie Johnson, who moments earlier had shut the door on him which resulted in contact, sending them both falling down the running order and setting up the chain reaction that followed.

And now we were in green-and-checkered territory, meaning there were three shots at getting this to the finish line before the race would be called: the prospect of extra distance weighed heavily on almost everyone’s minds, as they were running close to fumes already.

The first attempt at a finish ended in yellow on lap 190, when Joey Logano managed to tip the rear of Ryan Newman’s car, sending them into a wall locked into a pack with multiple casualties caught up with no where to go.

The second attempt ended in yellow on lap 196, when Jimmie Johnson misjudged a move on Greg Biffle and ended up moving up the track too quickly, clicking the front of Biffle’s car with the rear of the 48. That sent Johnson into a spin and a hard hit on the inside wall, collecting Biffle on the way.

That meant a third and final attempt at a finish – whoever was leading when the next flag came out was the winner. And Jamie McMurray was taking the restart in the lead, his main challenger soon revealed to be a hard-charging Kevin Harvick, who clamped on to the back of McMurray and refused to let go. On the final turn, Harvick pulled off a great move (one that he’d been seen practicing as early as Friday afternoon) that moved to the inside line while lightly brishing the back of the lead car, which gave McMuray just the right amount of wobble not to wreck but to give him a handful of steering to do that meant lifting ever so slightly. Harvick used the opportunity to slide through and take the chequered flag by the narrowest of margins.

With Montoya coming in third, the EGR strategy of keeping their powder dry at the back of the lead lap for so long was well rewarded, but ultimately Harvick had what it took to pull off the race win. Harvick’s rewarded with second spot in the Sprint Cup standings, closing on leader Jimmie Johnson after the 48’s late race-ending crash.

Race result

Pos  Driver                Car        Laps
 1.  Kevin Harvick         Chevrolet  200
 2.  Jamie McMurray        Chevrolet  200
 3.  Juan Montoya          Chevrolet  200
 4.  Denny Hamlin          Toyota     200
 5.  Mark Martin           Chevrolet  200
 6.  David Ragan           Ford       200
 7.  Clint Bowyer          Chevrolet  200
 8.  Kurt Busch            Dodge      200
 9.  Kyle Busch            Toyota     200
10.  Mike Bliss            Chevrolet  200
11.  Carl Edwards          Ford       200
12.  Martin Truex Jr       Toyota     200
13.  Dale Earnhardt Jr     Chevrolet  200
14.  David Reutimann       Toyota     200
15.  Scott Speed           Toyota     200
16.  Tony Stewart          Chevrolet  200
17.  Greg Biffle           Ford       200
18.  Travis Kvapil         Ford       200
19.  AJ Allmendinger       Ford       200
20.  Robby Gordon          Toyota     200
21.  Kasey Kahne           Ford       200
22.  Jeff Gordon           Chevrolet  200
23.  Bobby Labonte         Chevrolet  200
24.  Sam Hornish Jr        Dodge      200
25.  Paul Menard           Ford       198
26.  Robert Richardson Jr  Ford       198
27.  David Stremme         Ford       197
28.  Matt Kenseth          Ford       196
29.  Brian Vickers         Toyota     195
30.  Kevin Conway          Ford       195
31.  Jimmie Johnson        Chevrolet  194
32.  Jeff Burton           Chevrolet  191
33.  Elliott Sadler        Ford       188
34.  Brad Keselowski       Dodge      188
35.  Ryan Newman           Chevrolet  188
36.  Joey Logano           Toyota     188
37.  Marcos Ambrose        Toyota     188
38.  Regan Smith           Chevrolet  100
39.  Michael Waltrip       Toyota     84
40.  Max Papis             Toyota     83
41.  Johnny Sauter         Chevrolet  83
42.  Joe Nemechek          Toyota     47
43.  Dave Blaney           Toyota     33

Sprint Cup Standings

 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	
Pos +/-  DRIVER                 POINTS  BEHIND  ST  P  W  T5  T10 
1   --   Jimmie Johnson         1323    Leader  9   0  3  5   6   
2   +2   Kevin Harvick          1297    -26     9   0  1  3   6   
3   --   Greg Biffle            1237    -86     9   0  0  2   7   
4   -2   Matt Kenseth           1224    -99     9   0  0  3   6   
5   +1   Kyle Busch             1163    -160    9   0  0  1   4   
6   +4   Mark Martin            1154    -169    9   1  0  4   5   
7   +2   Kurt Busch             1146    -177    9   1  1  3   5   
8   -1   Dale Earnhardt Jr.     1142    -181    9   1  0  1   3   
9   +2   Denny Hamlin           1138    -185    9   0  2  3   3   
10  -5   Jeff Gordon            1130    -193    9   0  0  3   3   
11  +3   Clint Bowyer           1086    -237    9   0  0  1   6   
12  -4   Jeff Burton            1082    -241    9   0  0  1   2   
13  +2   Carl Edwards           1067    -256    9   0  0  0   4   
14  -1   Tony Stewart           1061    -262    9   1  0  1   3   
15  +2   Martin Truex Jr.       1045    -278    9   0  0  1   3   
16  -4   Joey Logano            1001    -322    9   1  0  2   4   
17  +4   Jamie McMurray         998     -325    9   1  1  2   3   
18  -2   Ryan Newman            995     -328    9   0  1  2   2   
19  -1   Paul Menard            962     -361    9   0  0  1   1   
20  +4   Juan Montoya           959     -364    9   0  0  3   4   
21  -1   Scott Speed            949     -374    9   0  0  0   1   
22  +4   David Ragan            930     -393    9   0  0  0   1   
23  -1   Kasey Kahne            926     -397    9   0  0  2   3   
24  -1   A.J. Allmendinger      917     -406    9   1  0  0   1   
25  -6   Brian Vickers          916     -407    9   0  0  0   2   
26  -1   Brad Keselowski        853     -470    9   0  0  0   0   
27  +3   David Reutimann        849     -474    9   0  0  1   1   
28  +1   Sam Hornish Jr.        827     -496    9   0  0  0   0   
29  -2   Elliott Sadler         822     -501    9   0  0  0   0   
30  -2   Marcos Ambrose         787     -536    9   0  0  0   0   
31  +1   Bobby Labonte          774     -549    9   0  0  0   0   
32  +1   Travis Kvapil          763     -560    9   0  0  0   0   
33  -2   Regan Smith            734     -589    9   0  0  0   0   
34  --   Robby Gordon           721     -602    9   0  0  0   0   
35  --   David Gilliland        601     -722    7   0  0  0   0   
36  --   Kevin Conway*          563     -760    8   0  0  0   0   
37  --   Mike Bliss             535     -788    7   0  0  0   1   
38  --   Max Papis              423     -900    8   0  0  0   0   
39  --   Joe Nemechek           380     -943    9   0  0  0   0   
40  --   Dave Blaney            345     -978    8   0  0  0   0   
41  --   Michael McDowell       293     -1030   7   0  0  0   0   
42  --   Bill Elliott           290     -1033   3   0  0  0   0   
43  --   Boris Said             252     -1071   4   0  0  0   0   
44  +2   David Stremme          225     -1098   3   0  0  0   0   
45  --   Michael Waltrip        200     -1123   3   0  0  0   0   
46  +4   Robert Richardson Jr.  155     -1168   2   0  0  0   0   
47  -3   Aric Almirola          154     -1169   4   0  0  0   0   
48  -1   Terry Cook*            118     -1205   2   0  0  0   0   
49  +4   Johnny Sauter          80      -1243   2   0  0  0   0   
50  -2   Scott Riggs            79      -1244   1   0  0  0   0   
51  -2   Casey Mears            73      -1250   1   0  0  0   0   
52  -1   John Andretti          49      -1274   1   0  0  0   0   
53  -1   Reed Sorenson          46      -1277   1   0  0  0   0   
54  --   Todd Bodine            0       -1323   0   0  0  0   0   
55  --   Brandon Ash            0       -1323   0   0  0  0   0   
56  --   Derrike Cope           0       -1323   0   0  0  0   0   
57  --   Mike Wallace           0       -1323   0   0  0  0   0   
58  --   Norm Benning           0       -1323   0   0  0  0   0   
59  --   Jeff Fuller            0       -1323   0   0  0  0   0   
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