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Jamie McMurray ends 86-race winless streak; Jimmie Johnson extends NASCAR Chase lead again

TALLADEGA, Ala. — NASCAR demanded that drivers be on their best behavior at Talladega Superspeedway, where a ban on bump-drafting sanitized what's usually one of the most spectacular races of the Sprint Cup season. But in the end, chaos reigned, as always.

After 450 miles of what resembled a slow Sunday drive, the action at the Amp Energy 500 picked up, and the outcome was much of what fans have come to expect at Talladega: an unlikely winner, two spectacular crashes and an army of drivers frustrated with restrictor-plate rulings.

Jamie McMurray ended an 86-race winless streak by holding on under caution. Jimmie Johnson ended up sixth, likely wrapping up a NASCAR-record fourth consecutive points championship because of the late action.

"I made the comment … it's just going to be luck," McMurray said, "whoever can get in the right row and make the moves."

That's how it usually works at Talladega, where restrictor plates slow the speeds and force drivers to use aggressive maneuvers to plow their way through packs.

But after Carl Edwards' airborne April crash at the track, NASCAR felt pressured to cut down on the bumping and blocking that usually triggers the multicar accidents known as "the Big One." Officials warned at the weekend's start that they didn't want to see drivers shoving each other.

NASCAR president Mike Helton ramped it up Sunday in a prerace lecture that banned all bumping in the corners. He warned that a victory gained through bump-drafting could be stripped.

In response, the field spent much of the day in a single file.

"I think everyone was just content to log laps," driver Denny Hamlin said. "Where is the middle ground between the new NASCAR rule and racing? Let us race. They gave us a car to race; now let the drivers handle it."

They did when it counted, and it got dicey. Ryan Newman's harrowing crash with five laps to go left him upside down, and NASCAR needed a stoppage of almost 13 minutes to cut him from the car.

"It was a boring race and a ridiculous race," Newman said. "The more rules, the more NASCAR is telling us how to drive the cars, the less we can race, and the less we can put on a show for the fans."

His crash set up a two-lap sprint to the finish, and that was halted when title contender Mark Martin flipped across the track. The race ended under caution, with McMurray winning for the first time since Daytona in July 2007.

Because Johnson spent most of the race around the back of the pack, he was in the mid 20s when Newman crashed. Crew chief Chad Knaus sensed a lengthy delay and called Johnson in for gas, a decision that may have clinched the title for him.

When cars ahead of him began to run out of gas because of the delay, Johnson vaulted up in the standings. The finishing order showed him eighth, but he was adamant he was higher. After a lengthy review, Johnson was credited with sixth, a finish that stretched his Chase points lead to 184 over Martin.

Johnson's 17.7 average finish at Talladega is his worst of the 10 Chase races. "I thought I was going to lose points with about three or four (laps) to go," he said. "So to have it turn around and lead with points over the guys, I didn't expect it."

Information from the Washington Post contributed to this report.

Sprint Cup points

With three races to go, only these drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship:

Driver Pts. Back

Jimmie Johnson 6,248—

Mark Martin 6,064 184

Jeff Gordon 6,056 192

Juan Montoya 6,009 239

Tony Stewart 5,969 279

Kurt Busch 5,936 312

Greg Biffle 5,908 340

Ryan Newman 5,846 402

Kasey Kahne 5,834 414

Carl Edwards 5,811 437

Denny Hamlin 5,800 448

Brian Vickers 5,697 551

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official standings today

Up next

Dickies 500, 3 p.m. Sunday, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth.

TV: Ch. 28

Fast Facts

Gearhead stats

Amp Energy 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Speedway:

Winner's average speed: 157.213 mph

Time of race: 3 hours, 13 minutes, 54 seconds

Margin of victory: under caution

Caution flags: 6 for 23 laps

Lead changes: 58 among 25 drivers

Lap leaders: Martin 1; Ku.Busch 2-8; Edwards 9; Reutimann 10; Edwards 11; Reutimann 12-16; Gordon 17-21; Mears 22-41; Earnhardt 42; Sadler 43-46; Burton 47; Newman 48; Stewart 49; Waltrip 50-51; Sadler 52-57; Hamlin 58; Sadler 59; Earnhardt 60-61; Hamlin 62; Harvick 63-88; Earnhardt 89; Montoya 90; Harvick 91; Martin 92-97; Ambrose 98-99; Hamlin 100-105; Andretti 106; Hamlin 107-108; Gordon 109-110; Burton 111; Gordon 112-113; Gordon 114; Logano 115; Earnhardt 116-118; Hamlin 119; Ky.Busch 120-122; Newman 123-124; Ky.Busch 125; Burton 126; Gordon 127-130; Stremme 131-135; Keselowski 136-139; Andretti 140; Keselowski 141-143; Gordon 144; Harvick 145; Truex 146; Kahne 147; Sadler 148; Montoya 149-150; Burton 151; McMurray 152; Ambrose 153; McMurray 154-167; Earnhardt 168-169; McMurray 170-175; Stremme 176-180; McMurray 181-191.

Jamie McMurray ends 86-race winless streak; Jimmie Johnson extends NASCAR Chase lead again 11/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 1, 2009 11:45pm]
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