TALLADEGA, Ala. – NASCAR fans witnessed the show of the year Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
With a record-setting 88 lead changes among 29 drivers, three attempts at a green-white-checker finish and 200 laps of competition, the only aspect of the racing that patrons could possibly complain about was if their driver was not winner Kevin Harvick.
Oh, and Harvick, who just happens to be in a contract year and just lost his primary sponsor at Richard Childress Racing, ended a 115-race losing streak.
Welcome to the new NASCAR.
And for the crybabies who don't enjoy the seat-of-their-pants suspense, Juan Pablo Montoya's advice is simple.
"If you don't want to be here, then don't be here," Montoya said. "I think it's cool, and I think the fans love it. It sucks when you wreck, but the show isn't going to get any better than this. It's pretty exciting, pretty crazy. It's pretty quiet in the beginning and the middle. But, I mean, it pays off with the last few restarts.
"NASCAR used the triple restart, and it worked out here. It sucked for us, but it was awesome for the fans."
Whether it was the battle of teammates -- Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the race or Jamie McMurray and Montoya at the finish -- or the "Boys have at it" style racing, there was no shortage of action throughout the day.
The new spoiler/restrictor plate package provided close-quarter racing. Competitors seemed extremely confident running in large packs and refrained from the multiple single-file laps that have been more than effective at putting the stands to sleep. Rather than getting in the mix early, McMurray, who had won the past two restrictor-plate races entering this weekend, opted to lay back in the pack with Montoya.
"I really thought there would be a wreck with the way the spoiler is and the way the cars suck up," said McMurray, who finished second. "Not intentional, just guys getting into each other a little too hard, but everybody drove a really clean race. We were just able to put ourselves in a good position in the end.
"It was actually a lot of fun out there. We had such a good rules package with the wing here, you didn't know how this was going to work. They did a really good job of picking the blade and the right (spoiler) and made the cars racy.''
Montoya, Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin rounded out the top five in the Aaron's 499 plus 30.
Eight cautions slowed the racing for 32 laps, and 10 cars were wrecked beyond repair -- including Joey Logano, who triggered the seventh caution after punting Ryan Newman in the corner of Turn 4. He collected himself and eight cars in the process. NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson collided with Greg Biffle and ended the No. 48 Chevrolet's day six laps before the checkered flag. Despite finishing 31st, Johnson maintained a 26-point lead when his day was through.
But it was Harvick and the No. 29 Shell team that executed its plan to perfection. Like McMurray, Harvick hung out at the back of the pack and waited for his opportunity to move forward. After practicing the two-car breakaway on Friday, Harvick knew exactly how the end game would play out. He and crew chief Gil Martin even reviewed the plan in the last 30 laps.
"You have basically one move," Harvick said. "As long as you stayed against their bumper, you were able to shoot past them and then as you shot past them it slowed them down and you could stay ahead for several hundred feet there until they draw back even.
"It's air. You get right against the bumper and as soon as you pull to the left and you get the front of your air pushing against his spoiler, it immediately slows that car down. Until you break all the way out, you're not pushing all the air that the front car is pushing, so you've got a couple of things working for you. It just worked out absolutely perfect on the timing side of it."
Kevin Harvick's first win of the season elevated the No. 29 team to second in the points standings. Harvick trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 26 points.
Mark Martin vaulted from 10th to sixth in points with his fifth-place finish -- his second top-five in the past three races.
David Ragan, who is on pink slip watch, led the most laps (eight) in the Roush Fenway camp on Sunday. Greg Biffle led three circuits, and Matt Kenseth led one.
Carl Edwards has yet to lead a lap this season. He has not been to the point in a Cup race since the 2009 Talladega race in November 12 races ago.
Is team owner Felix Sabates being a poor loser after Jamie McMurray led 27 laps only to finish second or did Kevin Harvick really go below the yellow line on the last lap?
"He (Harvick) was below the yellow line. They either have (the rule) or they don't have it. He was definitely below the yellow line. That's just pure b.s. It's just b.s. He was below the yellow line when he passed. He passed Jamie under the yellow line, and the rule is very specific. You pass below the yellow line, you're the last car on the lead lap."
The last Richard Childress Racing win at Talladega was with Dale Earnhardt in fall 2000. It was also Earnhardt's final win. The Initimidator would have been 59 this Thursday.