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Jaimie McMurray wins at Talladega
nascar pic
Jamie McMurray celebrates after winning the AMP Energy 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race Sunday, in Talladega, Ala. - photo by Associated Press
TALLADEGA, Ala. — NASCAR stopped the bumping, at least for a while.There was nothing that could be done about the blocking.In the end, Sunday looked like most every other event at Talladega Superspeedway: There was a surprise winner, two harrowing accidents, angry drivers and a frustrated fans over a vanilla race at NASCAR's most spectacular track.And oh, by the way, Jimmie Johnson likely sealed his record fourth-consecutive championship."I was so concerned about this race," the three-time defending champion admitted.With good reason.Racing at Talladega comes with a ton of unpredictability because of the horsepower-sapping restrictor plates used to curb speeds at the 2.66-mile speedway. It creates tight packs of racing and drivers need to use aggressive measures to move through the field.That usually leads to multi-car accidents known as "the Big One" — and most everyone believes the final finishing order is akin to playing the lottery."For the most part, you're at the mercy of the whole field," said five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. "You come here, you just sit in the bus, wait for the damn race to start and see what your number is at the end of the deal."McMurray wound up at the top of the board, snapping an 86-race winless streak dating to July 2007 at Daytona by hanging on when the racing heated up."I made the comment ... it's just going to be luck," McMurray said, "whoever can get in the right row and make the moves."Carl Edwards' airborne April crash into the frontstretch fence forced NASCAR to cut down on the dangerous bumping and blocking that usually triggers the big accidents. Officials warned at the start of the weekend that they didn't want to see drivers shoving each other around the speedway, and proved it by parking Michael Waltrip during a Friday practice when he didn't back off Johnson's rear bumper.NASCAR president Mike Helton ramped it up another notch Sunday in a stern pre-race lecture that banned all bumping in the corners. He was peppered with questions from the drivers, but held firm and warned that a victory could be stripped if it was gained through bump-drafting.In response, the 43-car field spent much of Sunday in a single-file parade lap that almost looked to be a conscious thumbing of the nose at NASCAR."I think everyone was just content to log laps," said Denny Hamlin, who was sidelined with an engine problem before the finish."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 as always, it got dicey when the racing picked up with about 20 laps remaining.Ryan Newman's harrowing crash with five laps to go left him upside down in the grass, and NASCAR needed a stoppage of almost 13 minutes to cut him from the car. Outspoken in the wake of Edwards' April crash, he was none too pleased to have spent almost 15 minutes trapped inside his car."It's probably the closest thing to being stuck in a tomb and not being able to get out — all my body weight was pressed up against my head," he said. "I respect NASCAR. I just wish they respected me."His crash set up a two-lap sprint to the finish, and that was halted when championship contender Mark Martin went flipping across the track in his own spectacular crash.The race ended under caution, with McMurray in Victory Lane.Because Johnson spent most of the race puttering around the back of the pack, he was stuck back in the mid-20s when Newman crashed. Crew chief Chad Knaus sensed a lengthy delay and quickly called Johnson in for gas — a decision that may have clinched the title.When cars ahead of him in the running order began to run out of gas because of the red-flag delay, Johnson vaulted up in the standings. The final finishing order showed him in eighth, but he was adamant he finished sixth.After a lengthy review, Johnson was indeed credited with a sixth-place finish that stretched his lead in the standings to 184 points over Martin with three races remaining."From where we were with the red flag to where we finished, I'm still in shock," Johnson said. "I can't believe that it worked out. I can't believe that many guys ran out of fuel and put themselves in that position."