Jeff Gordon wins, controversy brews in Talladega

It's not every day that a NASCAR Nextel Cup race ends with a sea of beer cans, t-shirts, and various other debris being tossed onto the track by angry race fans. But that was Jeff Gordon's greeting from the stands at Talladega, as he took the yellow ...

Jeff Gordon wins, controversy brews in Talladega

It's not every day that a NASCAR Nextel Cup race ends with a sea of beer cans, t-shirts, and various other debris being tossed onto the track by angry race fans. But that was Jeff Gordon's greeting from the stands at Talladega, as he took the yellow and checkers after a late race caution secured him the win.

It was anyone's race in the Talladega 499's closing laps as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon raced door-to-door for the lead. A late-race caution, caused by the spinning car of Brian Vickers with four laps to go, sealed the deal among the top five cars.

As the crowd expected one lap of caution, followed by a two-lap green flag duel to the death, NASCAR announced that the race would end under yellow and the field was frozen, as is, at the moment of caution. That's when the full beer cans began to rain down onto the race track and the cars as they made their way to pit road.

Gordon, always perky, rose above the thundering swish of boos, to celebrate his first win this season, and 65th of his career.

"What an awesome, awesome effort by this race team," Gordon said. "Just can't thank everybody enough. This couldn't come at a better time or a better place, I know this is going to be controversial but I don't care."

It is Gordon's third victory at the 2.66-mile superspeedway in 23 career starts.

"It feels really good to be in victory lane," commented Gordon. "Beating the DEI cars is so difficult to do. We did everything we could. I didn't know if we were ahead there in the end, but I knew that I was ahead of him going into turn three. We let NASCAR make that call."

Gordon, who is used to taking it on the chin from fans who despise him, took the post-race brouhaha in stride.

"I stopped down there," said Gordon. "So that they (the fans) could throw stuff on me, and then I did a burnout so I could spin as many beer cans as I could out the back of the car."

"My fans are drinking Pepsi not Budweiser," Gordon continued. "So that clearly puts them in a better decision making position."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. clearly thought he was in the lead at the moment of caution, and initially lined up in the top spot. A lap later, NASCAR realigned the field, relegating him back to second place.

Earnhardt was not amused.

"There at the end, I thought I was ahead of Jeff (Gordon) in the corner when the caution came out," said Earnhardt. "But NASCAR had the opposite opinion and gave the victory to Jeff and that team."

He did, however, hope that the call serves to quell the rumors that restrictor plate races are rigged so that Earnhardt wins.

"As much as it sucks not to win the race and get the trophy," said Earnhardt. "I'm glad one of those calls finally went against me. It's going to shut a lot of people up."

Third place seemed to be a quagmire post race, as NASCAR took over an hour to sort out who finished where in the race. Although Johnson was interviewed by the media and television outlets as the third place winner, NASCAR reviewed the tape and changed Johnson to fourth and awarded third place to Kevin Harvick.

"We've run so good these past few years at restrictor plate tracks that sooner or later we're going to get a win," said Harvick. "We've just got to keep clicking away. It was a great points day for us."

Jimmie Johnson earned a career-best finish at Talladega with the fourth-place result.

"I still feel that the DEI cars are more dominant than the rest of us, but I feel like we are starting to close the gap," said Johnson. "They are making us work a lot harder for four races. The Childress cars have made huge gains; they were pretty racy all day long."

Robby Gordon completed the top five.

"Man, I am just sorry we didn't get to go back racing," said Gordon. "We had a really good car and I had a shot at it. But we took four tires there at the end and did the best job we could. We kept the car on the race track all day long. We led some laps and had a great weekend down here at Talladega. It's a lot of fun to come down here and race."

The "big one" came at lap 83, as Tony Stewart made contact with the back of Kurt Busch's No. 97 Ford turning him in front of the train of cars. Also involved in the accident were Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, Ryan Newman, Jeremy Mayfield, Scott Wimmer, Dave Blaney, Derrike Cope, and Kenny Wallace.

"I got underneath him," said Stewart. "Then got him in a compromising position and I started to back out. I just didn't back out soon enough to get him out of it. Everybody can say what they want and the fans are going to say what they want to. This is a product of restrictor plate racing. If they want to script us script us and tell us where to run each lap and that's fine. We can do that too."

No drivers were injured. Despite a few small skirmishes, the wreck on lap 83 was the only multi-car crash of the event.

Earnhardt's second place finish allows him to retain the top spot in championship standings. Jimmie Johnson (-94), Jeff Gordon (-111), Kurt Busch (-125) and Matt Kenseth (-155) complete the top five in series points.

There were 11 cautions for 55 laps, and 55 lead changes among 23 drivers.

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