BRAD LOCKE:A great race ruined

TALLADEGA, ALA. – Way to go, Michael McDowell. You ruined it.

You ruined the best race I've seen in a while at Talladega Superspeedway. Your little power slide as the leaders took the white flag meant Sunday's Aaron's 499 had to finish under caution.

It meant Kyle Busch (gag) was awarded his first Talladega win without having to hold off Juan Pablo Montoya, Danny Hamlin and a huge pack of cars that was breathing down his pencil neck.

Rookies. Psh.

It was a deflating ending to a race that featured 52 lead changes among 20 drivers. During a couple of stretches, it was like the drivers had a mutual agreement to let every man get those five bonus points for leading a lap.

It was a total reversal of the last race held here, in October. That was a tepid affair as the drivers felt their way around the Car of Tomorrow.

Sunday, I found myself standing in the press box – and not just the final five laps – and getting a buzz as the cars hurtled into the tri-oval three and four wide.

So I guess I shouldn't let a rookie's mistake put too big a damper on what was a typical Talladega race, except we avoided the “Big One.” The closest we came was a six-car wreck 15 laps from the end, when Tony Stewart got into Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both led a lot of laps.

But it wasn't just big names running up front. David Gilliland, Paul Menard, Michael Waltrip (where's he been?) and David Stremme – who was subbing for an injured Dario Franchitti – all led, and not just because they stayed out while others pitted.

When Stremme moved up front on Lap 138, and much of the field was running four-wide, NASCAR This Week's Monte Dutton said, “We've definitely reached the wild point of the race.”

Over the race's final 83 laps, only twice did a driver hold the lead for more than six laps.

“The whole race was crazy,” said Hamlin.

No joke. One minute Hamlin was leading, the next he's in 20th. Same thing happened to Earnhardt in a matter of seconds.

Stewart blew a tire and scraped the wall on Lap 144, but he was back near the front before wrecking.

Whoever won this race wasn't going to do so easily. Busch missed his pit box during an early stop, and he almost missed the end of the race when he and Jamie McMurray bumped coming off the backstretch. I still haven't figured out how they didn't wreck.

I alluded to my disdain for Busch. I don't like rooting against certain drivers, but the 22-year-old Busch has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with his brashness and over-aggressive driving.

But he's got prodigious talent. This is his second Sprint Cup win this season; he's also won three times in the Nationwide Series and twice on the Craftsman Truck circuit.

Midway through Sunday's race, Busch's boss, Joe Gibbs, didn't think his newest driver could win. But Busch showed the patience and maturity that has not marked his career to this point.

Since signing on with Gibbs in August, Busch has behaved himself, and he's raced pretty darn well. He's now second in the standings, 22 points behind Jeff Burton, who finished 12th.

Maybe I should ease up on the kid.

McDowell, though, he's on my black list.

Brad Locke (brad.locke@djournal.com) is the Daily Journal assistant sports editor.

Click here for results.