Bump helps Vickers tap first Cup victory

The Baltimore Sun

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Midway through the final lap yesterday, more than 150,000 people gave out the strangest crowd reaction to a finish in the 37-year history of Talladega Superspeedway.

They went nearly completely silent, gazing blankly at a cloud of dust rising from the backstretch.

Seconds earlier they'd been jubilant but anxious as their favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., tried to hold off Jimmie Johnson for the win in the UAW-Ford 500.

Either way it turned out, Earnhardt and Johnson both seemed sure to gain badly needed ground in the standings and liven up the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

Then both were wrecked by a non-contender for the championship.

Johnson's teammate was trying to help him. And indeed, Brian Vickers bump-drafted Johnson up alongside Earnhardt.

But then Vickers knocked Johnson right into the side of Earnhardt, sending both spinning.

Then Vickers was declared the winner after NASCAR's electronic scoring system froze the field a moment after the wreck. That gave Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, who finished second and third, respectively, no chance to race Vickers back to the flag.

The win was the first of Vickers' Nextel Cup career, and "not the way I'd planned it," he said. "But what happened, happened. And it's still nice to get this win."

Said Johnson: "I got a run on the 8 [Earnhardt] and got in front of him, and just got hit from behind and it turned me into the 8, and then off we went. I just can't believe it. Here we go all day long and I've got a chance to make up some points and I end up getting crashed by a teammate."

Earnhardt led going into the final lap, and had led the most laps in the race, 37. But he knew he was a sitting duck to the two Hendrick Motorsports teammates lined up behind him in the draft.

"They had a good run coming at the end," Earnhardt said. "I knew there was really not going to be much I could do. He [Johnson] went inside and I tried to block him a little bit, but once I understood he was there, I didn't push the issue anymore, and the 25 [Vickers] turned him into me.

"Brian just got excited," Earnhardt said. "I hate it for the 48 [Johnson] and I hate it for our team. I'm not really that upset. That's just the way racing goes here."

Earnhardt had been annoyed Saturday when NASCAR had refused to add a practice session after abruptly ordering smaller restrictor plates in the middle of the weekend. That was to slow cars from the 198-mph speeds they'd reached in practice Friday. But even with a smaller plate Sunday, Earnhardt clearly had the strongest car until it went spinning at the end.

"I'm not going to deny I got into the back of [Johnson]," Vickers said. "And I hate it. But it wasn't intentional. I was trying to push Jimmie to a win."

Vickers' side of the story was more detailed and complicated than that of the two victims.

"Jimmie had a heck of a run and I was pushing him," Vickers said. "Then when he turned down to pass the 8, I got off of him, and the 8 just kept pushing him down, and when he [Johnson] jerked to avoid the 8 trying to block him, I just got into the back of him.

"I apologize. The last thing I wanted to do was get into Jimmie and have all that take place. But when the 8 chopped him and Jimmie swerved, I just got him. That's not the way I wanted to win it."

Earnhardt countered that "I threw a small block, but nothing major because they were coming so fast it was kind of pointless."

In further self-defense, Vickers pointed out that without his bump-drafting, Johnson would have had no chance to beat Earnhardt one-on-one.

"He could say, 'Well, man, I wish you wouldn't have been bumping me,'" Vickers said. "But he's not going to. Because he knows as well as I do that if I hadn't been bump-drafting him he wouldn't have had a shot to pass Junior. It is what it is. This is Talladega. If I'd laid off him, we would have finished 1-2-3 - Junior, Jimmie and me."

In the end, Earnhardt, Johnson and the crowd would have taken that.

Earnhardt and Johnson wound up 23rd and 24th, respectively. Johnson remained mired in eighth place in the Chase standings. Earnhardt actually managed to climb a notch to sixth in the Chase standings, but is now 108 points behind leader Jeff Burton.

Burton was lucky to keep the lead, considering a late flat tire that cost him 22 positions in the race. But, "It's hard to feel lucky when you're running fifth with 10 laps to go and then end up 27th," Burton said.

The day was even worse for four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who got caught up in the biggest wreck of the day, a 13-car pileup 51 laps from the end. Gordon wound up 36th after leading the second-most laps in the race, 27, and dropped to seventh in the standings, 147 points behind.

Ed Hinton writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

Chase standings

The NASCAR Nextel Cup points standings through 30 of 36 races. Only the top 10 qualified for the Chase for the Nextel Cup. (Note: Previous position in parentheses.)

Top Top

Rk. Driver Pts. Won 5s 10s

1. J. Burton (1) 5,598 1 6 18

2. M. Kenseth (4) 5,592 4 14 19

3. M. Martin (3) 5,584 0 7 14

4. K. Harvick (5) 5,564 4 12 16

5. D. Hamlin (2) 5,541 2 5 15

6. Earnhardt Jr. (7) 5,498 1 8 13

7. J. Gordon (6) 5,451 2 12 14

8. J. Johnson (8) 5,448 4 8 18

9. K. Kahne (10) 5,413 5 10 15

10. Ky. Busch (9) 5,413 1 9 16

Race results

NASCAR Nextel Cup

UAW-Ford 500

At Talladega, Ala.

Lap length: 2.66 miles (Start position in parentheses) 1. Brian Vickers (9), Chevy, 188, $228,850, 157.602 mph. 2. Kasey Kahne (25), Dodge, 188, $193,064 3. Kurt Busch (29), Dodge, 188, $169,108 4. Matt Kenseth (19), Ford, 188, $167,216 5. Martin Truex Jr. (16), Chevy, 188, $139,008 6. Kevin Harvick (14), Chevy, 188, $137,161 7. Jeff Green (37), Ford, 188, $116,783 8. Mark Martin (30), Ford, 188, $102,250 9. Carl Edwards (17), Ford, 188, $102,025 10. Bobby Labonte (39), Dodge, 188, $130,036 11. Kyle Busch (6), Chevy, 188, $96,475 12. Dale Jarrett (2), Ford, 188, $125,475 13. Ryan Newman (11), Dodge, 188, $94,983 14. Michael Waltrip (21), Dodge, 188, $120,033 15. David Gilliland (1), Ford, 188, $112,808 16. Robby Gordon (36), Chevy, 188, $77,050 17. Mike Wallace (28), Dodge, 188, $73,000 18. Joe Nemechek (15), Chevy, 188, $102,845 19. Scott Riggs (41), Dodge, 188, $76,125 20. Tony Raines (40), Chevy, 188, $78,500 21. Denny Hamlin (12), Chevy, 188, $75,300 22. Tony Stewart (13), Chevy, 188, $125,636 23. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (33), Chevy, 188, $115,866 24. Jimmie Johnson (3), Chevy, 187, $120,086, acc. 25. Ken Schrader (23), Ford, 187, $101,664 26. Mike Bliss (20), Dodge, 187, $82,358 27. Jeff Burton (34), Chevy, 187, $99,945 28. Dave Blaney (35), Dodge, 186, $82,897 29. Elliott Sadler (22), Dodge, 186, $103,191 30. Casey Mears (31), Dodge, 185, $107,183 31. Eric McClure (27), Ford, 182, $69,875 32. J.J. Yeley (10), Chevy, 177, $104,275, acc. 33. David Stremme (38), Dodge, 175, $78,500, acc. 34. Paul Menard (24), Chevy, 173, $69,375, acc. 35. Clint Bowyer (32), Chevy, 171, $77,200, acc. 36. Jeff Gordon (4), Chevy, 167, $117,636, acc. 37. Jamie McMurray (8), Ford, 160, $125,750, acc. 38. Kyle Petty (18), Dodge, 149, $76,800, acc. 39. Reed Sorenson (42), Dodge, 147, $76,675, mec. 40. Sterling Marlin (7), Chevy, 145, $68,525, acc. 41. Greg Biffle (5), Ford, 137, $88,735, acc. 42. Kenny Wallace (26), Chevy, 24, $68,260, mec. 43. Derrike Cope (43), Dodge, 9, $68,473, mec. Note: mec-mechanical failure; acc-accident Time of race: 3 hours, 10 minutes, 23 seconds. Margin of victory: Under caution. Caution flags: 6 for 22 laps. Lead changes: 63 among 23 drivers. Lap leaders: D.Gilliland 0; D.Jarrett 1; J.Gordon 2-3; J.McMurray 4-7; J.Gordon 8-17; J.McMurray 18-20; J.Gordon 21-24; J.McMurray 25-28; G.Biffle 29-35; T.Stewart 36; Kyle Busch 37-38; D.Earnhardt Jr. 39-41; Kyle Busch 42-44; D.Earnhardt Jr. 45; Kyle Busch 46; M.Kenseth 47-49; Kurt Busch 50; M.Kenseth 51; Kurt Busch 52; D.Earnhardt Jr. 53-59; E.Sadler 60; J.McMurray 61; D.Earnhardt Jr. 62; M.Kenseth 63-70; G.Biffle 71-76; J.Gordon 77-78; G.Biffle 79-80; J.Gordon 81-87; D.Earnhardt Jr. 88; J.Gordon 89; Kyle Busch 90-91; D.Earnhardt Jr. 92-93; J.McMurray 94-102; B.Vickers 103-108; J.McMurray 109; M.Martin 110-111; B.Vickers 112-114; C.Mears 115; B.Vickers 116-121; Kyle Busch 122-123; J.Gordon 124; M.Kenseth 125; C.Bowyer 126-127; M.Kenseth 128-129; C.Bowyer 130; D.Hamlin 131; M.Waltrip 132; C.Bowyer 133-134; M.Kenseth 135-138; J.Burton 139-143; R.Sorenson 144; M.Kenseth 145-146; B.Vickers 147; J.Johnson 148-149; J.Nemechek 150; M.Truex Jr. 151-152; J.Johnson 153; P.Menard 154; J.Johnson 155-157; K.Kahne 158-163; Kurt Busch 164; K.Kahne 165; D.Earnhardt Jr. 166-187; B.Vickers 188.

Leaders summary (Driver, times led, laps led): D.Earnhardt Jr., 7 times for 37 laps; J.Gordon, 7 times for 27 laps; J.McMurray, 6 times for 22 laps; M.Kenseth, 7 times for 21 laps; B.Vickers, 5 times for 17 laps; G.Biffle, 3 times for 15 laps; Kyle Busch, 5 times for 10 laps; K.Kahne, 2 times for 7 laps; J.Johnson, 3 times for 6 laps; C.Bowyer, 3 times for 5 laps; J.Burton, 1 time for 5 laps; Kurt Busch, 3 times for 3 laps; M.Martin, 1 time for 2 laps; M.Truex Jr., 1 time for 2 laps; D.Jarrett, 1 time for 1 lap; T.Stewart, 1 time for 1 lap; E.Sadler, 1 time for 1 lap; C.Mears, 1 time for 1 lap; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 1 lap; M.Waltrip, 1 time for 1 lap; R.Sorenson, 1 time for 1 lap.

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