Johnson and Bowyer Tie for NASCAR’s Closest Finish
There were 88 lead changes, tying an all-time record, in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, but none were as spectacular as the one that took place just a few feet from the finish line. 2008 Kansas Speedway winner, Jimmie Johnson, with the help of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. edged out Emporia, Kan. native, Clint Bowyer by .002-second. The incredible conclusion matched the Ricky Craven-Kurt Busch 2003 finish at Darlington Raceway for the closest in NASCAR’s modern era.
The Johnson-Earnhardt duo were fifth and sixth on the final lap before surging to the front, passing the two-car tandem of Richard Childress teammates, Bowyer and Kevin Harvick with just feet to go. A total of eight cars were in the mix as they approached the start/finish line, including Jeff Gordon (two-time Kansas Speedway winner) pushed by Hendrick teammate, Mark Martin (2005 Kansas Speedway winner) and Roush-Fenway’s Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle (two-time Kansas Speedway winner), all of whom finished within a fraction of a second of the winner.
Hendrick Motorsports teams showed impressive strength off the trailer at the 2.66-mile track. An all Hendrick top four led the field to green on Sunday, a feat that has only been accomplished two other times in NASCAR’s 63-year history. The Hendrick fortitude carried over to the race as well with each team finishing in the top eight.
Johnson’s win was the 54th of his career, which moves him into a tie with Lee Petty for ninth most wins in NASCAR’s top division. “So very, very proud of the effort Hendrick Motorsports has put in as always. I think it showed in qualifying and here are four of our cars fighting for the win at the end,” said Johnson. “So very proud of that; Chad (Knaus) and Stevie (Letarte) and the growth of the 48/88 shop, and the way Junior and I worked together today.”
Bowyer, the 2010 Talladega fall race winner, seemed just as excited about the finish as anyone else, but was still disappointed with second. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun,” said Bowyer. “If you didn’t like that finish, you’re crazy. But, we just came up short. It’s frustrating.”
Edwards’ last lap charge for the victory earned him a sixth-place finish and he leaves the Alabama tri-oval with the series point lead into next weekend’s break. However, he and the rest of NASCAR nation have reason to be concerned as the five-time and defending champion rides just five points behind in second.
There was no lack of thrills in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event either. The race included a series record, 36 lead changes and some names not normally seen in contention for wins.
The wily pairing of veterans, Mike Wallace and 2004 Kansas Speedway winner, Joe Nemechek appeared to have things covered until the Joe Gibbs powered twosome of Kyle Busch, pushed by Joey Logano, who owns two Nationwide Series wins at Kansas, forged their Toyotas to the front of the field on the final lap. Nemechek, who finished a season high third, found himself without a partner as Wallace’s car went flipping as he entered turn four, bringing out the caution that froze the field and ended the race. Amazingly, Wallace, who landed on all four tires, drove his No. 01 Johnny Davis owned machine across the finish line, logging an 18th-place finish.
After reviewing scoring loops, Busch was declared the winner, the 47th of his Nationwide Series career. The Las Vegas native now draws within two wins of Mark Martin’s all-time record of 49.
It was a tough day for series point leader, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The 23-year-old made contact with Roush-Fenway Racing teammate, Trevor Bayne, knocking him out of the race and consequently, the points lead. Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 Champ, led a race high 23 laps and would finish sixth in his ironically sponsored, RickyvsTrevor.com Ford.
Despite finishing 15th, Jason Leffler will enter next weekend’s race at Nashville Superspeedway with the series point lead, two points ahead of Justin Allgaier and five points ahead of Elliott Sadler who came home fifth on Saturday.
Both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series will be in action this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. The Sprint Cup series will take the weekend off and return to competition at Richmond International Raceway under the lights on Saturday, April 30th.
Kansas Speedway will host the first of two Sprint Cup races this year on Sunday, June 5th. The series will be joined by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on June 4 for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250. The Nationwide Series will be in action on Saturday, October 8th for the running of the Kansas Lottery 300, followed by the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway Cup event on Sunday, October 9th.
Tickets for all Kansas Speedway events are on sale now and are available by calling 866.460.RACE or by visiting www.kansasspeedway.com. As always, parking is free and race fans are welcome to bring a 14x14x14-inch soft-sided cooler into the grandstands with their favorite food and beverages.