Checkered Countdown: Top-Five Talladega Finishes
After Kansas, here we are going into the final race of the round of 12 at Talladega. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick will take it easy since they are already locked in the next round, but the others will fight like crazy to not be left out. Here is our top-five of the best finishes ever at the biggest oval in NASCAR.
Last sunday Harvick proved once again how well he and his team can perform in high-pressure situations. He won at Kansas after he had found himself last in the playoffs standings following a DNF at Charlotte. The other ten Chase drivers will fight it out at Talladega this upcoming sunday for the remaining spots.
The Talladega Superspeedway was opened in 1969 and the first NASCAR race was held the subsequent year. It’s a 2.66-mile oval, slightly longer than Daytona. The track is also much wider making it a little bit more comfortable for the drivers to drive around in a pack. Also, the finish line is not in the tri-oval, but further on towards turn one. This was an idea Bill France had in order to improve the selling of tickets in that area of the grandstands. Ten wins, 23 top fives and 27 top tens make Dale Earnhardt the most successful driver ever at this track.
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No. 5 Teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland work their way through the field to get a one-two finish (2013).
Restrictor-plate races are always a huge opportunity for smaller teams to get good finishes or even wins sometimes. That’s exactly what happened at Talladega in 2013: in the closing laps the two Front Row Motorsports teammates Ragan and Gilliland were running nose to tail in the middle of the pack. During the last lap, as the leaders were blocking each other they gained positions and then found an opening to get to the front.
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Ragan was dictating the moves to overtake the other drivers, Gilliland was propelling him forward. They moved from the middle of the pack to the lead in half a lap. Then the driver of the #34 just had to block a move coming from Carl Edwards and win the race. Gilliland finished second. It was the first win for the team and the second of Ragan’s career.
No. 4 The Big One strikes on the final lap and takes out 25 drivers (2012).
What happened on the final lap at Talladega in 2012 is what the Chase drivers fear to get into this sunday. There is always a possibility to be involved in a Big One and of losing a lot of points. That’s exactly what happened then. Tony Stewart had just taken the lead away from Matt Kenseth at the white flag but Kenseth was coming back. The two were side by side entering turn three when the driver of the #14 came down to get a push from Michael Waltrip but spun out instead. The massive wreck that erupted involved a total of 25 drivers. Kenseth was one of the few who made it through unscathed and was declared the winner.
No. 3 Underdog Ron Bouchard beats Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte in a photo finish (1981).
Another big upset before Ragan’s win took place at the same track in 1981. On the final lap Waltrip and Labonte were battling it out for the win. None of the two was paying very much attention to Bouchard who was trailing them closely. When they came out of turn four Labonte attacked Waltrip on the outside. The leader moved up to slow his opponent’s momentum down, opening the door for Bouchard on the inside. The soon-to-be rookie of the year took advantage of it and edged in front of them to win. The photo finish confirmed that Bouchard had won. It would be his only Winston Cup win.
No. 2 The closest finish in NASCAR history: Johnson beats Clint Bowyer in a four-wide finish (2011).
The record for the closest finish in the modern scoring era of NASCAR is held by two different races, tied. At Darlington in 2003 Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch by o.oo2 seconds, the same time difference that Johnson needed to beat Bowyer at Talladega in 2011. At the beginning of the last lap the tandem made of Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr was following the leaders. The two tandems in front were running side by side, slowing each other down and allowing them to close.
Johnson though was not impulsive and waited for the right moment to make a move. While entering the tri-oval he took advantage of a gap left by Jeff Gordon to move to their inside. It was now a three-wide drag race to the finish. Earnhardt kept close to Johnson’s bumper to push him and that propelled the driver of the #48 in front. When they crossed the line it was too close to call: the photo finish proved that the Hendrick duo had beaten the tandem made of Bowyer and Harvick.
No. 1 Harvick beats Jamie McMurray with a perfectly-timed slingshot pass (2010).
The year before Johnson’s win The Closer had beaten McMurray after passing him at the last possible moment. In the final part of the race the field had split in the usual tandems. Harvick was pushing the leader McMurray and the two built a comfortable lead over the rest. Comfortable enough for the Childress driver to try to pass the leader without surrendering the win to another tandem. He moved to the inside while exiting the trioval getting McMurray loose to slow him down. It was just enough to edge in front of him at the stripe after a perfectly-timed pass. That victory ended a three-year winless streak that had started after he had become Daytona 500 champion in 2007.