News & Media

Breaking down the final lap, finish at Talladega

April 18, 2011, Mark Aumann,

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Breaking down the final lap at 'Dega; Johnson goes from seventh to Victory Lane

How did Jimmie Johnson go from seventh to first on the final lap of Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway? Here's a breakdown of what happened between the four pairs of leaders over the final 2.66 miles.

White flag

Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have the lead on the high side heading through the center of the tri-oval, with Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle trailing on the inside. By the time they reach Talladega's start/finish line -- which is located between the tri-oval and Turn 1 -- Edwards-Biffle have tucked in behind the leaders, with Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick following closely behind. Johnson and his pusher, Dale Earnhardt Jr., decide to stay low.

Turn 1

While Gordon hugs the yellow line through the corner, Bowyer makes a quick move to the inside of Edwards, as Harvick follows him through. Edwards and his pushing partner wind up sliding up the track, allowing Johnson and Earnhardt to get by on the low side.

Turn 2

The first six cars are nose to tail in the low groove, with Edwards and Biffle regaining their momentum and ducking back into line.


While Gordon takes the center groove, Bowyer decides to go high and pulls even with the leader at the midpoint of the back straight. Sitting fifth, Johnson wavers back and forth, trying to determine which pair to follow. Just as Bowyer clears Gordon's bumper, Johnson decides to follow his two Hendrick teammates to the bottom of the track.

Turn 3

As the leaders enter the corner, Johnson tries to duck the nose of his car to the low side of Martin but there's no room down low. At the midpoint of the corner, Johnson sees a possible opening in between the two pairs, but Gordon won't allow that to happen, forcing Johnson to follow the RCR duo instead.

Johnson: "They got side by side, which allowed us to really close up and as we went into Turn 3, I had a big run, and was thinking about the bottom, and [Gordon and Martin] defended that, and then I kind of wandered to the middle and didn't have an option then and knew I still had probably a mile to go."

Turn 4

Nearest the yellow line, Gordon carries the narrowest of leads into the corner, with Bowyer coming back on the high side. Johnson remains behind committed to the high side, as Edwards begins to close back up on the six Chevrolets. Watch: Johnson, Bowyer, Gordon in photo finish

Entering the tri-oval

Seeing that Bowyer may have a run to his outside, Gordon slides up one lane in an attempt to use the side draft to slow their advance. At that moment, Johnson makes the decision that ultimately wins the race. He veers sharply to the inside of both two-car drafts and Earnhardt is able to catch up quickly and get back in a position to push. Johnson's left-side tires appear to touch the yellow line.

"I was like, 'Oh, no! Block 'em, block 'em, block 'em!"


Johnson: "I just chilled out and sat in their draft and as we came off of [Turn] 4, those two groups were occupied trying to side draft each other and racing each other at the top, covered up. As we started rolling up on them, I shot down to the bottom, and we were able to surge by out of the tri-oval coming out of the bottom because they kind of left it open there."

Bowyer: "I saw them coming, and [Gordon] and I were trying to suck off each other and break each other's momentum and drag racing each other so much. I was like, 'Oh, no! Block 'em, block 'em, block 'em! I knew if [Gordon] dipped down to block them, that we had the race won."

Midpoint of the tri-oval

Bowyer has a bumper ahead of Gordon. However, Gordon has lost contact with Martin. Johnson -- even with Gordon's trunklid -- has all the momentum and a clear view of the start/finish line. Edwards makes a banzai move right up against the outside wall but is too far back.

Gordon: "We were leading coming off of [Turn] 4. I'm sure when I watch the video, there's definitely plenty of things I would have liked to have done a little bit different, but I feel like we did a really nice job."

Edwards: "I don't know what it looked like from the outside, but from inside it looked like about eight drivers doing some serious precision driving. That was pretty wild. I have to see the replay, but I squeezed between Harvick and Bowyer at the finish line with Greg pushing me. You talk about some commitment. At that point, you just have to trust everybody's instincts. Kevin and Clint, I don't think they knew I was there, but they had the instincts to give me enough room in case somebody went there, and I had everything but an inch. We squeezed the car together and everybody kept it going straight. That's spectacular." Watch: Johnson, team celebrate in Victory Lane

Start/finish line

While Gordon is fading back in the middle of the track, Johnson powers by on the inside, edging Bowyer by .002 seconds. It equals the closest margin of victory since NASCAR went to electronic scoring in 1993.

Johnson: "I was inside [Martin], I could see [Gordon] pull back up, and maintain his line with [Martin] connected to his bumper. So, I don't know. There's still so much going on at the end of that thing coming to the stripe, I haven't seen it yet, either, like I mentioned and I don't know what anybody could have done differently. When you're four-wide across a start/finish line, I think that's a pretty damn good race."

Bowyer: "It's never very good to know you made NASCAR history by losing. Sooner or later I need to start making history by winning."