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Jimmie Johnson! Better not open the door when he's knocking

  And the winner is? Jimmie Johnson (48), over Clint Bowyer (33). Jeff Gordon (24) led at the white.  And just how much room is Carl Edwards (99) looking at on the high side? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


    Now that's a finish!
   Talladega never disappoints, and Sunday's eight-car fight to the wire was another thriller, with the tightest finish of the season, Jimmie Johnson by a nose -- less than that, really -- over Clint Bowyer, in another day of two-car team racing.

   Johnson, with a big nod to day-long pushing from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., told his loyal buddy "Next one is on us, brother."
   That likely would be Daytona in July, the next restrictor plate race.
   Johnson, after his first win of the season, dismissed complaints that he'd gone below the yellow out of bounds line in making his winning pass. http://bit.ly/g2mTA3
   NASCAR's no-call on the yellow line issue is already being debated. NASCAR made a controversial call at Daytona, remember, in denying Denny Hamlin a win in a similar move. And NASCAR has made several other controversial calls in the out-of-bounds issue at Talladega over the years, most notably in ignoring a pass by Earnhardt for the win, and in taking an apparent win away from Regan Smith.
    Johnson said he was paying more attention to Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon in those final moments of the race, to his right, "because they were coming down the track trying to protect the inside lane.
    "I have not seen the video yet, and I was not focused on where that yellow line was.  I was more worried about causing a big pile-up. Luckily Mark quit coming down, and then Jeff pulled back up."
   Of course that was the same defense Hamlin used at Daytona, in vain.
   "So I don't know where my left-side tires were," Johnson said. "But I've heard that a statement has been released (by NASCAR) and everything is cool."
   Why Gordon didn't move down to block Johnson is curious, but then Gordon was busy trying to catch and beat Clint Bowyer, at that moment just ahead of him on the outside.
   "I guess Jeff could have come all the way to the bottom and blocked me, and it may have worked out for him," Johnson said.
    "As soon as he heard I was inside Mark, I could see Jeff pull back up and maintain his line, with Mark connected to his bumper.
    "There's still so much going on at the end of that thing coming to the stripe...I don't know what anybody could have done differently. 
    "When you're four-wide across a start/finish line, I think that's a pretty damn good race."
   Now figuring out just drivers are thinking, with these two-car packs, might be difficult. But whatever the game plan, Johnson had a perfect end-game, working smoothly with Earnhardt following his every move: "I was on the radio with him going down the backstretch, trying to explain what I saw in front. 
    "We had a good run coming into turn three. And I talked him down to the bottom.
   "Then Jeff and Mark defended that. So I thought I could get up to the middle (though not the preferred line) and was telling him on the radio. But Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer had that  covered where there wasn't a move.
    "So I just stayed in the middle of the track.
    "Those four cars, side by side, punched such a big hole in the air that I let off the gas a little and let Junior really get to me and create some energy. And as we came off four, and I worked my way back to wide-open, we were rolling.
    "They were up there worried about each other side-drafting and really stalling each other out, and I had such a run....I was talking to Junior: 'Low, low, low,' and off we went. 
    "We got down there, and Mark and Jeff were trying to defend it, but we just had a little too much speed coming, and we were able to get by them."
    Johnson and Earnhardt worked so well together all afternoon that Johnson gave Earnhardt the checkered flag after it was over.
   "It's good working with someone all day long, so you can understand what they are thinking, and you can work together -- and before you know it, you're thinking more alike than you ever thought you would," Johnson said.
   Earnhardt himself seemed downright tickled at Johnson's win: "If I couldn't win, I wanted Jimmie to win...because I had worked with him all day and he is my teammate...and I am proud to be driving for Hendrick Motorsports. This was a great finish and a great weekend for us."
   Giving Earnhardt the checkered flag?
   "It just came to mind," Johnson said.  "I handed it to him, and he said 'Man, I don't want that.' I said 'Well, I have to give you something for the push and working with me.'
   "He said "No, that's what teammates do.'
   "I smiled and I said "Take the damn flag.  I'll give you the trophy too.'"
   With two-car drafting again the story, drivers had numerous rivals and teammates on their radios. For Johnson, listening to Earnhardt throughout the race was a hoot: "Man, he's a riot. To hear him on the channel, and Stevie (Letarte, Earnhardt's new crew chief) and the things he talks about...can I have this channel more often just to listen?'
    While the ultimate verdict may still be out on the two-car team racing at Talladega and Daytona, Johnson says he likes it: "We were complaining with the old package, and riding side by side, and not enough passes for the lead, and there was always the big wreck.
    "Now we have a ton of passes for the lead.
    "From a driver standpoint, we have a lot more control now with what we can do. 
    "Yes, it is still plate-racing, but you can make stuff happen. And there is a technique required to stay together and to work traffic together and to communicate.  It puts it back in the driver's hands a lot more.
    "I don't know what caused a couple of the wrecks, but we didn't have big, big pileups we typically see."

                           The finishing order of Sunday's Talladega 500/Aarons 499




Should NASCAR penalize Jimmie

Should NASCAR penalize Jimmie Johnson? Yes. Will NASCAR penalize Jimmie Johnson... It would be a cold day in Hades before that happens.

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