Jimmie Johnson won the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Speedway on Sunday, in Talladega, Ala., edging Clint Bowyer by about a foot with a big push from Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The official margin was 0.002 of a second, tied for the closest finish in the history of Nascar’s top circuit with Ricky Craven’s win at Darlington in 2003.
The race came down to an eight-car sprint — actually, four pairs of cars — with only the drivers at the front of the duos having a chance to win.
After laying back most of the day, Johnson, a five-time series champion, came on strong at the end for his first win of the season.
“We were just the lucky guy at the end with a good run,” Johnson said.
Coming out of the fourth turn, Johnson surged past his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin and got to the finish line just ahead of Bowyer.
“What a bummer,” said Bowyer, who led for a race-high 38 laps. “I saw him coming.”
Earnhardt, the fourth Hendrick driver, finished fourth and gave up a chance to claim his first victory since 2008 by deciding he was more comfortable pushing Johnson than being pushed.
“I can’t thank Junior enough,” said Johnson, who tried to give Earnhardt the checkered flag but was rebuffed. “He made the decision that my car was faster leading. ” He added: “In some respects, he was more worried about the team having a good performance than anything.”
Twenty-six leaders swapped the top spot for a total of 88 lead changes, tying the record set in last year’s spring race at Talladega.
“If you didn’t like that finish and forget about the race, there’s something wrong with you,” Bowyer said.