Sunday, April 25, 2010

Harvick Noses Ahead of McMurray to Win Aaron's 499 at Talladega

Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

The first restrictor plate race since the Daytona 500, NASCAR Sprint Cup cars entered the Aaron's 499 more seasoned than at Speedweeks this past February. Providing a NASCAR Sprint Cup record 88 lead changes between 29 different drivers, the 2010 race at Talladega Superspeedway was one of the most contentious battles of the still young stock car racing season.

Because of severe weather warnings in the Talladega county region, NASCAR's halting of race activities Saturday also erased Sprint Cup qualifying for the race. The Aaron's 499 field was set on car owner points following the event at Texas Motor Speedway last Monday. While the #48 Lowes Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson with Matt Kenseth's #17 Ford starting alongside, 8 lead changes transpired in the first 10 laps settting the tone for the event. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano were some of the drivers taking 5 bonus points for leading the Talladega race through early hustling. Also grabbing the top spot in the Aaron's 499 race was the #88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Taking the lead first on lap 30, Earnhardt Jr would take the 1st place position 5 separate occasions for 8 laps total. Besides the time out front of the field, the #88 Hendrick Motorsports car appeared very comfortable for Dale Jr as he could move through the field with ease for much of the Aaron's 499 event.

Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

A rather tame race through the first 75 lap distance, only the competition caution on lap 20 broke up the green flag dicing of Sprint Cup cars. The first caution for an on-track incident came when the Denny Hamlin's #11 FedEx Toyota slid off the frontstretch through the infield grass. Losing ground in this early race predicament, Hamlin recovered into the Aaron's 499 event to a top-5 finish for his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Five laps following the restart for the Hamlin spin-out, a multi-car frontstretch accident claimed the first collection of vehicles in the race. Initiated when the #18 Toyota of Kyle Busch bumped the #36 Chevrolet of Johnny Sauter, the crash caught Matt Kenseth's Ford, Michael Waltrip driven #55 Toyota, Max Papis in the #13 Toyota and the #2 Dodge of Kurt Busch along with others. Out of the race due to the accident, Waltrip quipped in the garage to a Fox Pit Reporter that Kyle Busch fails to practice the race conduct he preaches.

Into the last 30 scheduled laps, the battles for the lead ceased as drivers were counting down to the final laps. Maintaining a single file pack, two driver would enjoy the longest lead runs in the Aaron's 499. Jeff Burton led 17 laps and Jamie McMurray 23 circuits towards the end. However, as the drivers braced for their final moves vying for the race victory, the Aaron's 499 would go into extra innings. Originally scheduled for 187 laps, the 3 periods of green-white-checker finishes extended the distance to 200 laps (over 31 miles further than anticipated).

The entire scenario started as Jeff Burton, Scott Speed, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon wrecked within the frontstretch tri-oval. While not contributing to the crash, the #24 Dupont Chevrolet was susceptible to damage due to a run-in with a friend turned apparent foe. The #48 of Jimmie Johnson squeezed Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon down below the yellow line on lap 183 placing the #24 Chevrolet in a very precarious position. Adding for fuel to an increasingly harsher fire between the Hendrick Motosports teammates, Gordon and Johnson have been making headlines as late after an on-track run-in at Texas on last Monday.

Entering into extra laps, the race restarted on lap 188 with Tony Stewart challenging McMurray only for the #1 Chevrolet to slip away until a second massive accident in turn 3 aborted the white flag call. Triggered when the Joey Logano's #20 Home Depot Toyota aggressively bump drafted the #39 Chevrolet of Ryan Newman sending Newman out of control exiting turn 3. Talking 9 out cars, the #47 Toyota of Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski in the #12 Dodge, Bobby Labonte's #71 Chevrolet and the #83 Red Bull Toyota of Brian Vickers were among the cars collected. Also listed in receiving damage in the lap 189 crash, the #19 Ford of Elliott Sadler and the #77 Dodge of Sam Hornish Jr were also involved in the first major wreck at lap 84.

Because the extended distance, there were several cars and teams fretting about fuel economy into the final laps including both Earnhardt-Ganassi machines driven by Jamie McMurray and Juan Montoya. The second checkered flag attempt was thwarted when the #16 Roush Fenway Ford of Greg Biffle encountered fuel pick-up issues resulting in an incident where the #48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson misjudged the slowing Ford and collided on the backstretch.

Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

With fuel economy a growing worry for the #1 Earnhardt-Genassi Racing team, the race restarted for the third and final time with Jamie McMurray receiving the launch he needed with help of the #29 Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick. In a two-car draft, the pair of Chevrolets broke away into the white flag lap. Coming around for the final run down the front stretch tri-oval, Harvick searched for a way to pass McMurray's #1 Chevrolet. In a daring move, Kevin Harvick brushed the rear bumper of McMurray in such a way that made the #1 car just enough out of control to break his momentum. The yellow #29 Chevrolet ducked to the bottom of the track entering into a dead heat with the #1 car racing the last 50 meters to the start/finish line.

Though electronic timing made the declaration for victory anti-climatic, it wasn't until a photo finish until at the line where Kevin Harvick and the Richard Childress Racing fielded #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet were comfortably named winners of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Aaron's 499 race at Talladega Superspeedway. With the #29 sponsor Shell/Pennzoil announcing a move for Penske Racing in 2011, Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress and the entire #29 RCR team celebrated knowing that the future is still yet to be determined.

Settling for second place, Jamie McMurray narrowly missed an opportunity to claim his 3 straight restrictor plate victory. Commenting on the pass in post race, McMurray provided some insight on the move from the #29 car. "I really thought that Kevin was going to go high. I felt like I was close enough to the yellow line that there was a lot more racetrack to the right, and it seemed like you could stall guys out more on the outside than you could the inside. And so I was really guarding against the outside, and when he went left, it did, it really loosens the car up. It's hard to explain to you guys that aren't in cars, but when there's someone directly behind you and they pull their car out of line really fast, it's like you pull a parachute in your car."
Both Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolets made it on fuel as Juan Montoya finished in 3rd place.

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

With Denny Hamlin finishing 4th after the before mentioned troubles, the top-5 was rounded out by the the #5 Chevrolet of Mark Martin. Emerging at just the right time, Martin overtook his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to become the highest finishing driver in the camp. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson encountering late race problems while Dale Earnhardt Jr faded to 13th place as the #88 was shut out of the draft.

Inside the top 10, David Ragan posted a strong 6th place finish in the #6 UPS Ford. His first top-10 run of the 2010 Sprint Cup season, Ragan is fighting to regain the 2008 form that almost sparked a birth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

In the final position within the top-10 finishers, the #09 Chevrolet of Phoenix Racing was driven up 27 spots by Mike Bliss. Falling short of the major victory at Talladega just one year before, Mike Bliss' quiet 10th place run comes as team owner James Finch placing a 'For Sale' sign on the doorstep of his entire racing operations Friday.

NASCAR Sprint Cup points following the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway has Jimmie Johnson retaining the lead by only 26 points over the new 2nd place runner Kevin Harvick. Two Hendrick Motorsports drivers showed the sharpest rise and fall in the points after Talladega. Mark Martin moved up 4 spots while Jeff Gordon lost 5 positions in the season standings.

Sprint Cup teams prepare to leave the restrictor plate race behind for a Saturday night affair at the Richmond International Raceway short track.

Aaron's 499
2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup
Finishing Order
1) 29 Kevin Harvick Shell / Pennzoil Chevrolet
2) 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet
3) 42 Juan Pablo Montoya TUMS Chevrolet
4) 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota
5) 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet
6) 6 David Ragan UPS Ford
7) 33 Clint Bowyer BB&T Chevrolet
8) 2 Kurt Busch Miller Lite Dodge
9) 18 Kyle Busch Pedigree Toyota
10) 09 Mike Bliss Phoenix Construction / Graceway Chevrolet
11) 99 Carl Edwards Aflac Ford
12) 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Auto Parts Toyota
13) 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. National Guard / AMP Energy Chevrolet
14) 00 David Reutimann Alabama National Champions / Aaron's Toyota
15) 82 Scott Speed Red Bull Toyota 200
16) 14 Tony Stewart Old Spice Matterhorn Chevrolet
17) 16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford
18) 34 Travis Kvapil Long John Silver's Ford
19) 43 A J Allmendinger Insignia / Best Buy Ford
20) 7 Robby Gordon Monster Energy Toyota
21) 9 Kasey Kahne Budweiser Ford
22) 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chevrolet
23) 71 Bobby Labonte Chevrolet
24) 77 Sam Hornish Jr. Penske Truck Rental / AAA Dodge
25) 98 Paul Menard Turtle Wax / Menards Ford
26) 37 Robert Richardson Jr. Mahindra Tractors USA Ford
27) 26 David Stremme Air National Guard Ford
28) 17 Matt Kenseth Valvoline Ford
29) 83 Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota
30) 38 Kevin Conway Extenze Ford
31) 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet
32) 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet
33) 19 Elliott Sadler Stanley / Bostitch Ford
34) 12 Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge
35) 39 Ryan Newman Haas Automation / Office Depot Chevrolet
36) 20 Joey Logano The Home Depot Toyota
37) 47 Marcos Ambrose Bush's Best Baked Beans / Kingsford Toyota
38) 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
39) 55 Michael Waltrip Aaron's 55th Anniversary Toyota
40) 13 Max Papis GEICO Toyota
41) 36 Johnny Sauter Baldwin Automotive Chevrolet
42) 87 Joe Nemechek NEMCO Motorsports Toyota
43) 66 Dave Blaney PRISM Motorsports Toyota

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