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Hood: A Day Full Of Highlights At Talladega

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 18 2011

The winning pair – Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – hooked up in Victory Lane after the race at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Talladega, Ala. – A race track known for producing the bizarre churned out several more oddities during Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Observations on a sun-splashed race day in central Alabama, which played out in front of 115,000 spectators:

– For the first time in the history of the massive 2.66-mile tri-oval, the large draft was displaced by two-car packs capable of turning lap times more than two seconds faster than a car with no drafting partner.

– Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne flexed some muscle early before his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford was collected in a six-car pileup on lap 90.

– Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman (twice) each made spectacular, highlight-reel saves at well over 190 miles per hour.

– Journeyman driver Dave Blaney put on the glass slipper and nearly pulled off an improbable upset before fading over the final five laps.

– Kurt Busch triggered three incidents, including Blaney’s late-race spin, but remained a contender until the closing moments. Busch’s beat up No. 22 Dodge wound up 18th.

– Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson snapped a 15-race winless streak by putting his

Jeff Gordon gets a helping bumper from teammate Mark Martin during Sunday's race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

No. 48 Chevrolet in victory lane for the first time since Dover last fall.

– Talladega fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw his losing streak stretch to 101 races after pushing his Hendrick Motorsports teammate to victory.

– Johnson’s four-wide victory over Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon was 002-seconds, which tied the closest-finish in Cup since the introduction of electronic scoring. Ricky Craven nipped Kurt Busch by the same margin at Darlington in 2003.

– The biggest cheers of the day came when Earnhardt paced the field on four occasions for 11 laps, after Kyle Busch’s Toyota tagged the wall on lap 140 and when Johnson made a daring dive-to-the-inside on the final lap to pick up career victory No. 54.

– Oddly enough, the pro-Earnhardt fans didn’t boo Johnson as the lead pack swept across the finish line. Conventional wisdom says the fans were simply ecstatic with the frantic finish.

– During runner-up Gordon’s post-race interview, it was obvious that that four-time Cup champion was under the weather. “I’m sick as a dog,” he said. Next weekend’s Easter break will come at an opportune time for the California native.

– The race produced a record-tying 88 lead changes, but third-place finishing Bowyer was still left to defend the unique style of racing.

“Here’s the thing, ‘if you didn’t like that finish you’re crazy,’” Bowyer said. “If (the tandem racing) was a problem, it ain’t a problem anymore.”

– Johnson, who gave the checkered flag to Earnhardt following the race, said he wasn’t sure had won the race until his teammate keyed the microphone and started talking.

“The radio was dead silent,” Johnson said. “Chad didn’t know what channel to talk to me on. Then when I got to Turn 1 (on the cool-down lap) Jr. said ‘I think the 48 won.’

“(Earnhardt) was the one that broke the news to me.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 18 2011
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