Tony Stewart's Toyota wins Talladega crashfest
Tony Stewart held off hard-charging rookie Regan Smith, who made a last-lap daredevil pass below the yellow line in trying to beat the two-time champion.
NASCAR rules prohibit passing below the yellow line that separates the racing track from the apron.
It was Stewart's first win ever at Talladega Superspeedway and came at the end of a wham-bam day in which many of the top contenders were knocked from contention in a wild and wooly wreck just 14 laps from the end.
The accident was triggered when Carl Edwards' Ford lost grip, creating a chain reaction that had cars spinning all over the place, including Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship contenders Edwards, teammate Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and a host of others not involved in the Chase.
Sidelined or seriously damaged in the accident also were race contenders Juan Pablo Montoya, Travis Kvapil, Dave Blaney, Michael Waltrip, and Reed Sorensen.
The race produced an all-time record number of leaders with 27.
Smith's teammate Paul Menard was second. Smith was moved back to 18th for his rule violation after officials reviewed the finish.
David Ragan was third, Burton was fourth, Bowyer fifth, Bobby Labonte finished six, Scott Riggs seventh, Robby Gordon eighth, Jimmie Johnson ninth and Elliott Sadler tenth.
Johnson's finish was unusual since he lost a lap early and was never fully competitive, even though he did lead at one point.
Kyle Busch, another leader, was 15th but never ultra-competitive. Harvick wound up 20th after being a serious contender.
Before a cheering Talladega crowd which typically watches on its tiptoes, NASCAR's best drivers gave them what they came for, side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper action right from the git-go.
Pole winner Kvapil led a lap, then Vickers led, then Edwards, back and forth, forwards, backwards, race cars jockeying for position like Big Brown down the stretch at the Kentucky Derby.
For example, Montoya was running second on Lap 11 and dropped to 24th by the 13th lap. Rookie Aric Almirola jumped up front to lead lap 15. Just a lap or two later, Ragan took the lead with a shove from Kvapil.
The crowd erupted with cheering and shouting on Lap 25 when Earnhardt took the lead for the first time. "Junior Nation" roared its approval. Johnson's day was not going nearly so well as he lost a lap when his Chevy had possible engine problems. Kvapil went back in front on Lap 30. The lead was changing so fast, it was hard to keep up with who was leading when. The first caution of the beautiful afternoon fell on Lap 34 with Earnhardt out front. The crowd was still on its feet.
Following pit stops, Gordon was the first car back on track, leader of the snarling pack with 37 of 188 laps complete. Truex, Jr., was second, Burton third, Mike Wallace fourth, Earnhardt fifth and Busch sixth.
Burton quickly went to the front but was passed by Kenseth. Vickers got a huge shove from Johnson, fighting to get his lap back, and the Toyota driver led for a lap. Sadler roared to the front and then Mears led a lap.
Another debris caution slowed the field on Lap 45 with Mears ahead. The crowd was still standing.
Sadler was the leader when the green flag fell at Lap 49. Ryan Newman's afternoon ended with a sick engine at this point and Kyle Busch streaked to the front with a push from teammate Hamlin.
Kurt Busch went out just before Gordon and David Reutimann spun on the 52nd lap. Jon Wood was also in the accident on the backstretch. Johnson's luck might have turned better during the accident as he barely missed this one after getting back on the lead lap by virtue of the "lucky dog" award.
During this caution period, Kurt Busch's crew raised the hood on his car and eventually took the Penske Dodge behind the wall.
Reutimann apparently cut a tire that triggered the accident.
Vickers went back out front on the 59th lap restart with Kvapil, Mike Skinner, Kyle Busch and Sorensen behind.
Kahne went to the front with McMurray in tow, then, lined up three abreast, Sorensen led, then Truex, Jr., tried to lead before Jamie McMurray took the top spot.
If anyone took their eyes off the pack, you ran the risk of missing a lead change. Earnhardt went ahead, then Montoya and before you could blink an eye,
Talladega mayhem took over on Lap 68. Vickers cut a tire, sending his Toyota sideways into McMurray and triggering a domino-effect wreck that damaged several cars besides Vickers’ and McMurray's. Terry Labonte was involved, as was Almirola, Truex, Skinner, Kahne, Tony Raines and David Gilliland.
NASCAR officials red-flagged the race to clean up the debris.
After a 20-minute delay, action continued with Earnhardt leading, Paul Menard second and Burton third when the green flag waved on Lap 71.
On the next lap, Hamlin took the front spot. Once again, the lead changed hands several times each lap. Johnson led for the first time before Earnhardt returned to the front. Then, it was Johnson again. Stewart went out front on Lap 80 with Mike Wallace in his draft.
Another tire problem, this time for a failure on Mike Wallace's right rear, brought out the caution on Lap 81. Pieces of Wallace's tire tore up the front of Michael Waltrip's NAPA Toyota and his crew had to make repairs before he continued.
When the green waved on Lap 86, it was Kyle Busch ahead of Earnhardt and Montoya up front.
It was probably the best lap-by-lap race in the history of this 2.6-mile superspeedway.
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