Tandem with Junior key to Johnson’s win
by Wesley Sinor
Above, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard car, waits for Jimmie Johnson to finish at pit road.
TALLADEGA — Despite all the criticism two-car tandems have taken, it turns out Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. know exactly how to work the new racing style. The pair raced Talladega Superspeedway to perfection, and Johnson can thank Earnhardt Jr. for pushing him across the line at Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

Johnson gave his checkered flag to Earnhardt Jr. following the race.

“I got it and gave it to him,” Johnson said. “He goes, ‘I don’t want it.’ I said, ‘Well I’ve got to give you something.’ I can’t wait to tilt a cold one back with him and thank him for a good job done today.”

0.002 seconds is all it took to separate Johnson from second-place Clint Bowyer. It was the closest margin of victory in Sprint Cup Series history.

“It’s never a very good to know you made NASCAR history by losing,” Bowyer said after losing by a hair. “The only thing that bums me out is those guys lagged back all day long. That’s what makes it tough, losing to somebody that did that. We were up front for our sponsors and our team and digging all day long. When you get it taken from you at the end by somebody who lagged back all day, it’s hard to take.”

In the post-race press conference, Johnson shared his thoughts on the drafting.

“I think the way this is evolving now, the lead car, unless he can get out pretty far, you can’t stay there long,” Johnson said. “The two-car tandem situation punches such a big hole in the air that if you’re 20 back, you’re able to pick up a draft and close quickly. We were able to run them down and have two shots at the win. I think you will see side by side racing at the finish like we did especially at Talladega and Daytona.”

Earnhardt Jr., who heavily criticized the two-car tandems earlier in the week, finished in fourth place, and moved up to third place in the Sprint Cup standings. Junior said if he couldn’t win the race, he wanted Johnson to.

Johnson said it was Junior who made the decision to push instead of be pushed.

“I had worked with him all day and he is my teammate and I am proud to be driving for Hendrick Motorsports and this was a great finish.,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I discovered, in my opinion, we were a faster team if he was leading the two of us. We stayed committed.”

Not surprisingly, the opinions on the new style appeared to be relative to where each racer finished.

“The guys that run well are happy and the guys that don’t run well are mad,” Johnson said. “It is different. There is some technique required now, instead of just running wide open all the time, now there’s some work required and some skill. I think that this racing is fun. And it’s certainly easy for me to say because I won. But it was a good day, I think the racing was good.”

Contact Wesley Sinor at wsinor@dailyhome.com.
© 2011