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Jimmie Johnson wins Talladega in record-tying close finish

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Jimmie Johnson won the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the checkered flag.

Maybe they should go in the NASCAR record as co-winners.

In a finish that matched the closest in Sprint Cup history, Johnson edged Clint Bowyer by about a foot to win a Talladega two-step Sunday — with huge thanks to a push by Earnhardt.

Junior gave up a chance to end a 101-race winless streak, selflessly agreeing to shove the No. 48 car of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate instead of vice versa in what was essentially a tag-team event.

"I can't thank Junior enough," Johnson said. "He made the decision that my car was faster leading. … He was more worried about the team having a good performance than anything."

The margin was 0.002 seconds, tying Ricky Craven's win at Darlington in 2003 for the closest since NASCAR went to electronic timing in 1993.

It came down to an eight-car sprint. Well, actually, four pairs of cars, with only the guys at the front of the duos having a chance to win the Aaron's 499.

After laying back most of the day, Johnson, the five-time defending series champion, hugged the yellow line at the bottom of the track — flirting with a penalty — for his 54th victory and first this season.

He couldn't have done it without Earnhardt, to whom Johnson gave the checkered flag.

"That just came to my mind," Johnson said. "He was like, 'Man, I don't want that.' But I told him, 'I have to give you something for the push and working with me.' He just said, 'That's what teammates do.' "

Though Earnhardt hasn't won since 2008, he said it was a no-brainer to push Johnson.

"If I couldn't win the race," Junior said, "I wanted Jimmie to win the race, because I had worked with him all day and he is my teammate."

There was a bit of dispute over Johnson's winning move. He clearly touched the yellow line with his left tires, but appeared to be forced low by his other two Hendrick teammates, Jeff Gordon and pusher Mark Martin. NASCAR officials ruled it was a legal pass.

Johnson got a huge run coming out of Turn 4 at Talladega Superspeedway, surged past Gordon and Martin through the trioval and edged Bowyer in a four-wide dash.

"What a bummer," said Bowyer, who led a race-high 38 laps. "I saw him coming."

Earnhardt was fourth. Kevin Harvick, who was Bowyer's pusher, wound up fifth. The top eight were 0.145 seconds apart.

Twenty-six leaders swapped the top spot 88 times, tying the Cup record set last spring at Talladega. Many of those changes were carefully choreographed by drivers who broke off into pairs then traded places so the car in the back half would not overheat.

"If you didn't like that finish and forget about the race, there's something wrong with you," Bowyer said. "It always seems to fix itself at the end of these restrictor-plate races. We always have a hell of a finish."

BIFFLE EXTENDS DEAL: Greg Biffle and main sponsor 3M renewed their contracts with Roush Fenway Racing through the 2014 season. Biffle, 41, has been with owner Jack Roush since 1998 — first in trucks, then the Nationwide series — and has 16 Cup victories.

Jimmie Johnson wins Talladega in record-tying close finish 04/17/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 17, 2011 10:30pm]
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