If you like drama and the unpredictable, Talladega Superspeedway is the place to go.
The mammoth 2.66-mile Alabama track has hosted some of the most memorable races in NASCAR history, including October’s Mountain Dew 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, which featured the closest finish in series history.
And it was a controversial one to boot, as Kyle Busch dove under leader Aric Almirola just before the two crossed the start-finish line. It appeared that Busch went below the yellow out-of-bounds line in making the pass, but the victory was allowed to stand.
Busch, driving his own No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, crossed the start-finish line .002 seconds ahead of Almirola’s No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota. The margin of victory tied Ricky Craven’s 2003 Darlington Sprint Cup victory over Kyle Busch as the smallest of any of NASCAR’s top three series since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.
In the same race a year earlier, Busch and Almirola were teammates at Ballew’s squad and Almirola had pushed Busch to the victory.
“I know what happened here last year with Aric pushing me to the win,” Busch said after the race. “That is all I was planning on. I was going down the backstretch thinking stay behind him, stay behind him. If you get two wide you just make such a big hole in the air for all the guys behind you to get you.”
But it all changed at the end.
“I came to the tri-oval pushing Aric and I thought the 13 (Johnny Sauter) was on my butt and I was loose through the tri-oval so I started chasing it up a little bit,” Busch said. “Once I got out there I was like, ‘Man, I’m too far, the 13’s going to go to my inside.’ I saw him in my left mirror so I kind of ducked back down and tried to block the bottom. I got underneath Aric and then I beat him to the line, obviously. I hate it that Aric went through that, but this was a great race truck right here.”
Busch was as shocked by what happened as those watching it. “It’s pretty spectacular the way you come down towards the end and you have no idea how it’s going to play out,” he said. “And then all of the sudden you cross the start-finish line and you’re wondering, ‘Did I win? What happened? Who crossed the start-finish line first?’ It’s pretty amazing the way this place and the way it races and what happens and how close the finishes can be.”
Almirola, predictably was less sanguine about losing what seemed like a sure victory.
“My perspective is that I won the race,” said Almirola. “NASCAR’s perspective is that we ran second. I guess today we lose.”
Almirola talked to NASCAR officials after the race, but to no avail.
“They said that he went below the yellow line because he was trying to regain control of his truck,” Almirola said of his meeting with NASCAR officials. “I guess they’re going to have to do a better job elaborating in the driver’s meeting on what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. I guess if you get out of control and you go below the yellow line and save it and still gain a position that is OK. I’m still confused and I’m still disappointed. I probably shouldn’t even be doing interviews right now because I’m obviously biased because I finished second.”
The victory helped Busch on his way to the Truck Series owners’ championship, while Almirola went on to finish second in drivers' points, both drivers enjoying great seasons. At the end at Talladega, both putting on an incredible show.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.