Busch wins another one for Toyota
After a multi-car wreck with 25 laps to go ruined Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart's chances, Busch battled his way to the front with some bold moves in the closing laps of a thrilling race.
Juan Pablo Montoya, the former Indy 500 winner and Formula One star, crossed the finish line in second, glued to the bumper of the winner.
The seventh caution flag of the day fell on the final lap, signaling the end of the race, when a gaggle of cars racing for finishing position started spinning behind the leaders.
The race which featured 52 lead changes among 20 drivers was totally unpredictable from start to finish with drivers swapping the lead several times on a single lap.
Denny Hamlin, who raced Stewart and Earnhardt for the lead throughout most of the race, finished third with rookie David Ragan fourth. Ragan also mixed it up with the leaders all day.
Brian Vickers was fifth, followed by Travis Kvapil, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Earnhardt, who managed a 10th-place finish despite his car being damaged in the wreck.
It was a pins and needles afternoon with just about every driver leading for a spell. On the final restart, two-time champion Jimmie Johnson pushed Michael Waltrip to the front momentarily but the deck shuffled several times by the end. Johnson finished 13th and teammate Jeff Gordon, who challenged up front in the closing moments, wound up 21st.
Points leader Jeff Burton, who also ran with the frontrunners most of the overcast afternoon, was caught up in the last accident and finished 15th.
As heartbreaking as it was for Earnhardt and Stewart, substitute driver David Stremme –filling in for the injured Dario Franchitti – ran strong all day but was also eliminated in the final accident of the day.
Stewart jumped into the lead at the start on a balmy day at Talladega's two and a half mile speed emporium that has produced some of NASCAR's most exciting races.
By lap 10, Talladega favorite Earnhardt had moved from ninth to third.
It was a short day for Chip Ganassi Racing driver Reed Sorensen, who retired to the garage with engine problems after just five laps.
Behind the leaders Stewart, David Ragan and Earnhardt, pole winner Nemechek settled into fourth with veteran Schrader on his bumper.
Four-time series champion Gordon had moved from 20th to eighth by the 19th lap when former champion Matt Kenseth slid into the turn four wall for the first caution of the afternoon.
Nemechek lost valuable time in the pits while his crew switched his car from "qualifying mode" to "race mode," such as reconnecting belts like power steering that might produce a little more speed.
On the restart, Stewart was still leading with Kyle Busch second, Sadler third and Gordon fourth, followed by Brian Vickers, Earnhardt, Ragan, Jamie McMurray, Montoya and Scott Riggs.
Shortly afterwards, McMurray and Hamlin hooked up in the outside groove and streaked past Stewart and the others. After pushing McMurray to the front, Hamlin ducked to the bottom in turn one and took the lead himself on lap 33.
By lap 37, Earnhardt pulled out of line in front of Gordon and roared to the front, much to the delight of the huge, partisan crowd.
Clearly, the outside groove was the place to be. By lap 41, it was Earnhardt, Gordon, Paul Menard, Newman and Kevin Harvick, who started back in 39th position. Stewart and company had faded to 20th.
Hotshoe Carl Edwards brushed the wall and lost the draft during this period of the race.
The racing was just what people expect to see at Talladega with two and three abreast racing keeping the crowd on its feet.
Earnhardt maintained the lead during several skirmishes but Vickers got out front briefly and held on for several laps.
Harvick took a turn in front, then Hamlin again. Then Earnhardt again at 60 laps of this 188-lap nail-biter.
After everyone had pitted under the green flag, Stewart was once again out front.
Vickers, who had been in the thick of things, spun his car exiting pit road and lost a lot of track position, all the way back to 30th spot.
By 70 laps, it was Stewart, Hamlin, Menard, Martin Truex Jr., Kvapil, Johnson, rookie Michael McDowell, Waltrip, Elliott Sadler and Bowyer. Earnhardt had dropped to 11th spot.
On lap 76, Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., scraped the wall slightly and had to make an unscheduled pit stop.
By the 80th lap, Earnhardt was back up to fourth just behind Johnson. Stewart and Hamlin were in front. The next lap, Earnhardt pushed Johnson towards the front but fell back in line, leaving Johnson in a fade-away position, all the way back to 15th.
Stewart and Hamlin were hooked together for several laps and Nemechek had worked his way back into the top 10.
Earnhardt took the lead again on lap 88 with the Stewart-Hamlin duo stuck on his bumper.
At the halfway mark, 94 laps, it was Earnhardt, Stewart, Hamlin, McMurray, Ragan, Menard, Waltrip, Newman, Truex, and Sadler.
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