News & Media

Johnson nips Bowyer at the line, wins at Talladega

April 18, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- At the end of 188 laps and 500 miles, Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Aaron's 499 by inches, tying a record with his razor-thin .002-second margin of victory.

With a push from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson edged Clint Bowyer in a wild three-wide finish at the 2.66-mile track. The victory was Johnson's first of the season, his second at Talladega and the 54th of his Cup career, tying him with 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Lee Petty for ninth on the all-time list.

The winning margin tied Ricky Craven's victory over Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003 for the closest since the introduction of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.

Jeff Gordon ran third and Earnhardt fourth, as Hendrick drivers claimed three of the top four finishing positions. Kevin Harvick came home fifth, followed by Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, David Gilliland and Joey Logano.

Johnson moved into second place in the Sprint Cup standings and trails Edwards by five points after eight races. Earnhardt gained three positions to third in points, 19 behind Edwards.

Johnson felt the assist from Earnhardt was so important that he tried to give Earnhardt the checkered flag after the race.

"Well I got it and gave it to him," Johnson said. "He goes, 'I don't want it.' I said, 'Well, I've got to give you something -- here. Thanks.' He's got the checkered flag over there, and I can't wait to tilt a cold one back with him and thank him for a good job done today."

Earnhardt was happy to provide the big assist.

"If I couldn't win the race, I wanted Jimmie to win the race, because I had worked with him all day, and he's my teammate and I'm proud to be driving for Hendrick Motorsports," Earnhardt said. "This was a great finish and a great weekend for us to be able to qualify like we did [sweeping the top four starting spots], race like we did and we have awesome engines, and we build great cars. And we all finished very well today, and that's a tribute to the craftsmanship we have back in Charlotte."

Johnson and Earnhardt spent approximately half the race running toward the rear of the field but took their turns up front -- enough for Johnson to lead 14 laps and Earnhardt 11. Gordon and Martin, on the other hand, stuck to their strategy of running six to 10 seconds behind the leaders, successfully avoiding the wrecks that took out other contenders.

By the time the race restarted for the final time on Lap 178 -- after the sixth caution of the day for a wreck involving Ryan Newman and Juan Montoya -- Gordon and Martin had already moved to the front in a two-car tandem, and Johnson and Earnhardt joined them shortly thereafter.

To Bowyer, losing by such a small margin was compounded by being edged by a driver who had spent considerable time near the back of the field.

"It's never very good to know you made NASCAR history by losing," Bowyer said. "Sooner or later I need to start making history by winning. That guy's won enough.

"The only thing that bums me out about that is those guys lagged back all day long. That's what makes it tough, losing to somebody that did that. We were up front for our sponsors and our team, digging all day long. When you get it taken from you at the end by somebody who lagged back all day, it's hard to take."

Gordon, however, said executing the lag-behind strategy wasn't as easy as it appeared.

"It comes down to a strategy race to try to get yourself in position with 20, 25 [laps] to go," Gordon said. "And there's more to it than you think. I mean, you know, when you see me and Mark out there riding around, six, eight seconds back of the lead, it's not as easy as you think it is to manage that and to figure it out.


-- Jimmie Johnson earns his 54th career victory in his 335th Cup start.
-- Jimmie Johnson ended a 15-race winless streak; tied for the second longest of his career.
-- Jimmie Johnson moves into a tie with Lee Petty for ninth all-time in victories.
-- Sunday marked the eighth different race winner in the past eight races at Talladega.
-- Eight of the past 12 races at Talladega have now been won with a last-lap pass.
-- Hendrick Motorsports gets its 11th Talladega victory, tying RCR for most by any team.
-- A 0.002-second margin of victory ties closest finish (Darlington March 2003) since electronic scoring began in 1993.
-- Eighty-eight lead changes Sunday ties the record set at Talladega last April.
-- Clint Bowyer (second) earns his fourth consecutive top-10 finish in 2011; he finished second in the past two races.
-- Jeff Gordon finished third in his 625th Cup start; all of Gordon starts are consecutive since his first at Atlanta in 1992.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) finished in the top-12 in the past seven races and moved into third in the points standings (only the third time in the top-five in points in the past 89 races); Earnhardt Jr. has led at least one lap in the past 11 Talladega races.
-- Kevin Harvick (fifth) earns his third consecutive top-five finish at Talladega and finished in the top-10 in four of the past five races; Harvick extended a 21-race streak of running at the finish, the longest current streak by a driver with no Talladega DNFs.

"You still are having to watch your temperatures and different things. But let's be honest -- in my opinion, Talladega has always been about a 15-, 25-lap race, and the rest is just trying to get to the end. And that's basically what we have now."