By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
October 8, 2006
AP - Oct 8, 8:34
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- Brian Vickers isn't allowed
to attend Hendrick Motorsports team meetings.
Now he might not even be allowed in the building.
Vickers stole his first Nextel Cup victory Sunday by
nudging teammate Jimmie Johnson into race leader Dale
Earnhardt Jr., then skirting by the two spinning cars on
the last lap at Talladega Superspeedway.
It robbed what looked to be a victory for Earnhardt
and a solid chance for Johnson to resurrect his fading
Nextel Cup title hopes. And it certainly spoiled what
should have been a crowning moment for Vickers, who has
just six races left in his Hendrick ride before his
impending defection to a Toyota team.
``I got into Jimmie and I hate it,'' Vickers said.
``The last thing I wanted to do was wreck either one of
those guys, but what happened, happened. It wasn't
``It's definitely mixed emotions for me, being my
first win, but also what happened with Jimmie because he
is my friend and also a teammate, as well.''
But a rift has apparently been brewing since Vickers
asked out of his Hendrick contract in June, and was
locked out of team meetings shortly after.
Johnson, who wasn't going to finish lower than
second, wound up 24th and struggled to understand why
the accident happened.
``I just can't believe it. Here we go all day long, I
had a great chance to make up some points, and I end up
getting wrecked by a teammate,'' he said. ``Knowing the
situation we're all in, I would hope that someone would
be a little more patient than they were back there.
``I know he was trying to get his first win, but he
was in a position to finish second or third the way that
was, and he gave me one hell of a push from behind and
pushed me into (Earnhardt) and off we went.''
The dramatic ending capped what had been a curiously
calm event on Talladega's sleek new asphalt. The
UAW-Ford 500 was incident free until 50 laps to go, when
an 11-car melee crippled Jeff Gordon's championship
A second accident set up a final restart with 10 laps
to go and Earnhardt out front. Then points leader Jeff
Burton got a flat tire and had to make a desperate pit
stop while the championship board tightened up
With Earnhardt chugging along -- and only 20 points
out of the championship lead -- the finish seemed
But the two Hendrick drivers apparently had a
game-plan of hooking up to run down Earnhardt. They
moved low together, and Earnhardt threw a huge block to
prevent the pass. Vickers pushed, Johnson bobbled and as
he was drilled in the back bumper, he slid into
Earnhardt for the two-car crash.
AP - Oct 8, 8:02
Vickers defended the move, saying if he hadn't have
given Johnson a push they would have had zero chance of
running Earnhardt down.
``If I would have not touched him and laid off of
him, we would have finished 1-2-3, Junior, Jimmie and
me,'' Vickers said. ``I apologize, that is the last
thing I want to do is to get into Jimmie. But when the 8
chopped him, and Jimmie swerved, I just got him.''
It started a debate through the garage, with everyone
choosing sides, including a crowd that showered Vickers
Earnhardt seemed to side with Vickers.
``Brian was just excited there,'' he said. ``I'm not
really that upset, I mean, that's just the way racing
goes here and sometimes you come out on the good end of
those deals and sometimes you don't.''
Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, who finished second and
third because of the wild ending, both seemed to
sympathize with Vickers.
``Vickers was in a Catch-22, whether to go for the
win for himself or to help his teammate,'' Busch said.
``He had every intention of helping his teammate. It
just didn't turn out that way.''
But not everyone was so forgiving, particularly
within Johnson's team.
``I honestly don't think Brian was trying to wreck
us, I think he was trying to help us,'' crew chief Chad
Knaus said. ``I just don't think he has the talent to
understand what he has underneath him.''
The wreck dropped Earnhardt to a 23rd-place finish,
Johnson to 24th and prevented either from making any
gains in the Chase for the championship. Although
Burton's lead was cut to six points over Matt Kenseth,
Earnhardt is 106 back in sixth place and Johnson is 156
out in eighth place.
Even more disconcerting for Hendrick is that Gordon
also took a huge hit in the standings.
After leading seven times for 27 laps, he was denied
a chance to run for the win when he received the worst
of the first accident in the race. It came with 50 laps
to go when contact between Carl Edwards, Joe Nemechek
and Johnson set off an 11-car melee.
AP - Oct 8, 7:58
Gordon spun toward the outside, seemed to keep his
car off of it, then skidded back down the track with
minimal damage. But Casey Mears tagged him from behind,
sending a disheartened Gordon puttering into the garage
amid a flood of cheers from the crowd.
As he watched his crew furiously try to make enough
repairs to get him back on the track, he declared his
championship hunt pretty much over. Six points out of
the lead two races ago, a 39th-place finish last week
and a 36th here has him seventh in the standings, 147
``I've said all along that if it's meant to be, it's
meant to be,'' he said. ``And it just doesn't seem meant
to be. Right now I am not even thinking about it because
I am just so bummed out because I know that our chances
are pretty slim of winning this championship, if not
NASCAR slapped smaller restrictor plates on the cars
Saturday because speeds on the repaved track were
nearing 200 mph during two early practice sessions. The
new plates were designed to slow the cars, and they did
But many of the average speeds throughout the race
were still over 200 mph.
``I think we'll visit the speeds after we've had a
chance to look at everything and go through all the lap
sheets from every lap,'' NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter
said. ``The one thing you have to watch for speeds over
200 is if a car is in the back and gets a good push,
especially with new pavement, the closing rates are
``We'll definitely take a look at that.''