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How the race was won

Vickers
Vickers Brian Vickers crossed the finish line first. That was pretty much it. OK, there was a little more to it than that. Jimmie Johnson, with teammate Vickers' help, was poised to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap for the win. But Vickers tapped Johnson's Chevy, sending him into Earnhardt and knocking them both into the grass, allowing Vickers to drive on to his first Cup win.

Story of the race

The finish.

The Big One.

Some "friendly" disagreements.

And, of course, as always, a bit of a points shakeup.

Give 'em credit

Vickers. He wanted to win one before leaving Hendrick, and he did. Dedicating the win to Ricky Hendrick was a nice gesture, and the meaning of Vickers and that team winning a race shouldn't be lost in the controversy shuffle. Of course, it wasn't all positive for Vickers. More on that later. But regardless of what happened on that last lap, he did drive a heck of a race and deserved to be in the mix for the win.

Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin. Holding serve is about all one can hope for at Talladega, and those three all came through – with each narrowly dodging or managing to overcome obstacles during the race – and put themselves in good position in the Chase standings. Chasers Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch also ran solid races.

The other non-Chasers in the top 10: Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Green and Bobby Labonte. Green and Labonte, especially – they need days like that.

Talladega Superspeedway. The resurfacing, by all accounts, was a rousing success.

Juan Pablo Montoya. Impressive stock car debut in the ARCA race.

Finally, solid weekend for David Gilliland.

What were they thinking?

Vickers. What was he thinking? That he'd help his teammate win the race – or at least help him make a pass for the lead. Yes, the wreck was his fault, but it wasn't intentional. And yes, it was his first win, but perhaps Vickers, considering how the win came about, should have toned down the celebration just a little and driven straight to victory lane. He will have to live with a bit of an asterisk next to his first win – not unlike the one somewhat attached to his 2005 Nextel Open victory that came at Mike Bliss' expense. This one, of course, meant a lot more – and the fact that he took out his (still for the moment) teammate and NASCAR's most popular driver in the process didn't help. He's not exactly Johnson's favorite person right now.

NBC. The number of commercials shown during this race – just disgraceful. Here's to hoping NASCAR included provisions and/or guidelines for ad frequency in its new TV contracts.

Fans at Talladega. Not all of them, mind you, but the select few who decided to risk injuring others by launching debris onto the track just because they didn't like the outcome of the race. Even if those feelings were justified, the actions were not. It's also unreal – and unfortunate – that fan complaints have spurred Lowe's Motor Speedway to prepare extra security to protect Vickers this weekend.

Better luck next time

Johnson
Johnson Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. Obviously. Even more bitter considering how well they did to dig out of early holes on Sunday. They should be right in the thick of the points race. It's not too late, but Sunday didn't help.

Jeff Gordon finds himself here again. He could have won Sunday's race. Instead, his dramatic plummet in points continues.

Jeff Burton. We talked about holding serve earlier, and he was less than 10 laps from doing just that. Then bad luck struck and all but erased his points lead – and possibly kept Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon in the title hunt.

Everyone else caught up in the multi-car wrecks, including Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle. It's Talladega – and the Big One really wasn't any one driver's fault. Just one of them plate racin' deals.

The Gibbs trio. All three in one wreck? That's rough.

By the way …

Are the fuel cells too small for these races? Pit stops are integral, but they were perhaps a bit too frequent on Sunday. Too many opportunities for teams to be bit by bad luck or bad stops, as there were many problems on pit road – though that's all just part of the game.

Mark Martin is heading to (the team currently known as) MB2 for a part-time schedule next year. It's a surprising move, and it's very questionable whether the team will be able to win races. But if Martin wants to postpone retirement again and keep changing his mind, so be it. That's his prerogative. Also, nice truck win.

Was NASCAR's decision to change restrictor plates fair? It was tough on teams to some extent, but probably the right call. Didn't seem to hurt the action on Sunday.

One of our favorite moments? Around lap 80, the field was three-wide. Up high were two Roush cars drafting together, in the middle were to Hendrick cars drafting together, and on the bottom were two DEI cars drafting together. Great stuff.

Does the bump drafting debate involving NASCAR, Gordon and Junior warrant discussion? Probably. But we're tired. Let's not and say we did. OK, we can't resist one angle. This became a Gordon vs. Junior issue, but Gordon didn't really want to answer the question about Junior bumping him. He tried to compliment Junior in the process, but the criticisms are what made it back to Earnhardt. That's when the story took off, with Junior saying he won't help Gordon anymore. This could have been a non-issue. Instead, Gordon may not be one of Junior's favorite people right now.

Grading the race

Where to start. This was a great race until the Big One, which isn't an uncommon take on plate races. Still, anyone who believes NASCAR fans only watch races to see big wrecks like that is mind-blowingly ignorant. Fans (the ones that don't throw stuff) are far savvier than that. The beauty of plate racing is watching all the cars run so close all day without wrecking, and that's what we saw for a while Sunday. But the wrecks did come, some Chasers were involved, the points leader had bad luck late – and then there was the insane finish. A memorable race, for sure, but all in all, not a great one. Too much negative by the time the checkers (and beer cans) flew. Grade: C

From the source

Brian Vickers: "The last thing I wanted to do was get into Jimmie and wreck either one of those guys. But what happened, happened. It wasn't intentional. It's definitely going to be mixed emotions for me being my first win, but also with what happened with Jimmie and how he is my friend and being a teammate as well."

Jimmie Johnson: "I don't have much to say or much to talk to [Vickers] about. … I have a hard time feeling he was really sorry for what he's done. At the same time I know it wasn't intentional so I just kind of go on."