There were big wrecks and angry drivers Sunday. The garage area was littered with crumpled cars. There was a surprise winner, and Jimmie Johnson continued to extend his lead in the Chase for the Championship.
Jamie McMurray, who hadn't had a top-five finish all year, was out front and declared the winner as he approached the white flag with 13 cars crashing behind him. It was his first win in more than two years, and it came on a day when NASCAR said it would penalize teams for aggressive driving.
There were no such penalties issued during the race, but cars driven by Ryan Newman and Mark Martin flipped on their roofs in separate incidents. There were two crashes involving 18 cars in the final five laps. Anger was divided equally in the garage area after the race -- half against other drivers; half against a racing organization that can't seem to figure how to keep Talladega safe without affecting the track's reputation for being entertaining.
McMurray was one of 25 different leaders Sunday. He was out front when Newman flipped on the backstretch with five laps to go. The cleanup forced the race into three laps of overtime, and he was out front for the 13-car crash that ended the race with the white flag.
To win, all McMurray had to do was circle the track one more time under caution -- without running out of gas.
"We were sweating it there a little bit," crew chief Donnie Wingo said.
McMurray said being up front at Talladega is like winning the lottery: being at the right place at the right time. Teammate Matt Kenseth got behind him and pushed him to the lead, but Kenseth got shuffled to a 24th-place finish.
"It takes a little bit of luck to be in that position," McMurray said. "Certainly you can think all you want which lane you need to be in, but you have to have somebody behind you that's willing to help. When it's your teammate and friend, it makes a big difference."
NASCAR warned drivers not to make any contact with another car in the turns, supposedly to end an old practice known as bump-drafting. As a result, drivers seemed content with riding in a long single-file line for most of the race.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Jimmie Johnson 6,248
2. Mark Martin 6,064
3. Jeff Gordon 6,056
4. J. Pablo Montoya 6,009
5. Tony Stewart 5,969
6. Kurt Busch 5,936
7. Greg Biffle 5,908
8. Ryan Newman 5,846
9. Kasey Kahne 5,834
10. Carl Edwards 5,811
11. Denny Hamlin 5,800
12. Brian Vickers 5,692