Roush-Fenway Racing's Jamie McMurray took his third career win in a race at Talladega that frequently threatened to turn to farce.
The drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series had already seen the horsepower limiting restrictor plate they were to use that mammoth 2.66mile track changed to further slow the pace. Then on the day of the race, after all the practice sessions had been run NASCAR added another rule.
NASCAR president Mike Helton informed drivers at the normal drivers' meeting that they would not be allowed “to push someone, to bump-draft them or to shove them through the turns.”
That removed the tactic that was so crucial to the end of the Spring race, two cars no longer allowed to draft so closely that they gain a massive advantage.
Helton's warning seemed to cast a shadow over the race. After an early caution for an accident involving Paul Menard and Joe Nemechek, when Menard blew a tyre, it became clear this was not a normal Talladega race, or even a normal Restrictor Plate race.
Gone were the three, of four wide packs of drafting cars shuffling back and fourth as drivers appeared contented to follow each other in a long, and very fast, train. Perhaps they were doing it on protest, perhaps they were doing it to find out exactly how much pushing, bumping and shoving they could get away with (there was plenty throughout the race, and as yet, no official penalties).
The drivers knew it was boring, several complained of boredom in the their cars Kevin Harvick, while leading the snake was jokingly offered an Ipod by his crew.
The monotony brought a rare sight to the high banks of the Alabama track – not one but two rounds of green flag pitstops, either side of the day's second caution period as Kurt Busch blew a tyre and span through the tri-oval infield.
In fact much of the most interesting action was happening as drivers dropped out of the draft and tried to slow down in time for the pit lane. Several drivers narrowly avoided running into each other, while A.J. Allmendinger was not so lucky, Clint Bowyer spinning the RPM driver around.
The second, third and fourth cautions, for Kurt Busch's spin, debris and for the smoky expiration of Denny Hamlin's engine, were all followed by brief periods of the more familiar plate racing – the race still saw a commendable 58 lead changes – but all too soon the drivers dropped back line astern, frightened of NASCAR's wrath for over aggressive driving and of posing positions by dropping out of line to attempt a pass.
It soon became clear that many were leaving any charge to the front for late in the race, twenty or thirty laps to go. Both Stewart-Haas cars and Jimmie Johnson had spent much of the race outside those fighting for the lead, but all were planning charges.
That made it all the more worrying when, with twenty laps remaining the entire lead pack was still in a single file line, running high on the race track.
However, slowly, the race began to expand a second drafting line, a third, occasionally a sign of an embryonic fourth.
This was the racing everyone expected, and soon it had the consequences everyone expected and feared.
With only four laps to go the highest drafting line appeared to concertina (perhaps drivers ahead lifting off to avoid penalty). Ryan Newman ran into the back of Tony Stewart, the latter swerving into the wall. Newman in turn was hit by Marcos Ambrose behind him, and the pair, along with Kevin Harvick and Elliott Sadler, an early threat for victory in his new Ford, span into the infield heading for turn 3.
Slowly, lazily, the rear of Newman's No.39 lifted off the ground, flipping onto its roof, and landing on the bonnet of Harvick's car. The Army sponsored car then slid, still inverted up the banking, hitting the wall, before sliding back down into the turn 3 grass for a final violent flip and coming to rest upside down.
There were several nervous minutes before there was radio communication from the driver confirming he was OK, and even after safety teams had righted the car hydraulic cutters were needed to free Newman from the crushed rollcage, from whence he emerged straight up, like a jack in the box.
The red flag that had been put out after the crash, left a green-white-checkered finish, but this itself was delayed as several drivers, including Jeff Gordon, Juan Montoya and Max Papis found their cars running out of fuel, as many driver needed to pit of a splash of fuel to make it through NASCAR's version of US sports overtime.
When the green flag finally flew once more McMurray led from Brian Vickers, the Toyota Camry driver briefly challenging for the lead as the field accelerated, but he fell back as the lower lane of McMurray, followed by Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano pushed past.
As the leaders entered the tri-oval ahead of taking the white flag, there was another 'Big One' taking place behind. Brad Keselowski, the Spring race winner, bumped Kurt Busch on the straight sending Busch left into traffic. He clipped Scott Speed, whose car looked set to roll as the right hand tyre flirted with lifting off the track.
As panic set in behind Martin Truex was sent cannoning into the outside wall, before spinning back into traffic, spearing Mark Martin in the right rear quarter panel and sending the No.5 car rolling once before settling back onto its wheels and into the tri-oval wall. In total 13 cars were involved in the accident, which saw the race end under caution, with McMurray taking his first win since Daytona's July date in 2007, followed (unofficially) by Kahne, Logano and Greg Biffle.
Jimmie Johnson, despite leaving his move to the front until only ten laps to go, finished sixth, helped by the misfortune of those ahead of him, extending his lead to 184 points, with Mark Martin still second.
“What an exciting day,” said McMurray, who is due to leave Roush this winter, in victory lane as he described how he coasted the final, under caution, lap to preserve what fuel he had. “I just can't believe it's here again.”
Other drivers were less complimentary of the race. “It's just disappointing,” said Ryan Newman after his crash. “I wish NASCAR would do something, it's a boring race for the fans.”
“[The crash] is a product of this racing and what NASCAR's put us into with this box with these Restrictor Plates, with these types of cars, with the yellow line, with the no bump drafting, no passing. Drivers used to be able to respect each other and race around each other.” “I guess [NASCAR] don't think much of us anymore.”