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Tag-team racing here to stay
NASCAR Talladega Auto Heal
Dave Blaney (36) and other drivers head through Turn 2 of the Talladega Superspeedway late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Talladega, Ala., Sunday. - photo by Associated Press


TALLADEGA, Ala. — Jimmie Johnson didn't mind a little tag teaming.

Of course, he won the race.

Matt Kenseth thought it was a terrible idea.

Then again, he was knocked out by a crash.

NASCAR drivers have always had a love-hate relationship with restrictor-plate racing, essentially based on how they finish. It's the same for the fans, who moan and groan about how boring it is — until there's another nail-biter of an ending like the one at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.

Johnson, with a big push from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., edged out Clint Bowyer by two-thousandths of a second to tie for the closest finish since NASCAR started using electronic timing.

Hard to complain about a four-wide sprint to the line. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards were also in the mix, and the top eight — each of the contenders was accompanied by a pusher — were a mere 0.145 seconds apart.

Throw in a record-tying 88 lead changes among 26 drivers (more than half the field led at least a lap) and it comes across as the most exciting event in the history of racing.

Johnson certainly saw it that way from Victory Lane.

In a broad sense, the focus was the same as it's always been in a restrictor-plate race: stay out of trouble, conserve the car and try to set up a run for the checkered flag in the last few laps.

But the tactics are different now.

Drivers have figured out they can go even faster when they pair up with just one other car — one guy leading, the other pushing his back bumper — rather than lining up in long drafting formations that used to be the norm at Talladega and Daytona, the two high-banked tracks where horsepower-reducing devices are required on the carburetor to keep speeds from getting over 200 mph.

Now, you've got rivals swapping radio frequencies before the race and cutting deals out on the track to pair up. You've got drivers actually waiting in the pits for their partner so they can back out together. You've got drivers such as Earnhardt essentially giving up a chance to win in order to push another guy across.

Is this really racing?

Again, it depends on who you ask.