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April 17 in NASCAR: Johnson wins in four-wide finish at Talladega

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The early 2010s were a different time for NASCAR when it came to restrictor-plate tracks and it can be summed up in two words: Tandem racing.

For a brief time, the signature image of a huge pack of cars streaming around Daytona and Talladega was replaced by the visual of two-car pairings, usually teammates, frantically pushing each other for position.

The tandem era arguably peaked on April 17, 2011 at Talladega in a race that featured 88 lead changes.

With five laps to go in the Aaron’s 499, 10 groups of tandem partners jockeyed for the win, with Dave Blaney leading into Turn 1 via a push from Kurt Busch. Neither driver would finish in the top 15 after Busch nearly wrecked Blaney with four laps to go.

With three laps to go, the remaining pairings with a shot at the win were: Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle; Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick; Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann; Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin; Tony Stewart and David Gilliland; AJ Allmendinger and Paul Menard.

With two laps to go, the parings of Edwards/Biffle and Bowyer/Harvick had a good advantage over the rest of the field. But by the time the field exited Turn 4, the Gordon/Martin duo had passed Bowyer/Harvick. They were the leaders as they took the white flag.

When the field reached Turn 3 for the final time, Johnson/Earnhardt had entered the fray. They were behind Bowyer/Harvick and Gordon/Martin as they entered the tri-oval. Edwards/Biffle trailed them.

Johnson/Earnhardt then dove to the lower lane in the tri-oval and started a three-wide drag race to the finish line that would become a four-wide finish at the last moment.

Johnson beat Bowyer by .002 seconds.

“I drove through (Turns) 3 and 4 and I’m like, ‘We’ll get another chance, I hope,'” Johnson told Fox. “They were worried about each other in the second and third lane and left that bottom open and we had some big (momentum) on our side and off we went.”

Also on this date:

1960: Joe Weatherly won his second race in two nights with a victory at Wilson (N.C) Speedway, a half-mile dirt track. But Weatherly wasn’t the first to cross the finish line. That was Emanuel Zervakis. NASCAR disqualified his win after they found his fuel tank was oversized, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”

1965: Rookie Dick Hutcherson earned his first career win in a race at Greenville-Pickens (S.C) Speedway. He went on to win nine poles and nine races that season on his way to a runner-up finish in the points. He’d only compete in two more seasons, winning five times. He went on to crew chief for David Pearson during Pearson’s 1969 championship run.

1977: Cale Yarborough led 495 of 500 laps and won a Cup race at Bristol by seven laps over Dick Brooks.

1994: Terry Labonte led only the final 29 laps and beat Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan at North Wilkesboro for his first win as driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet.

2009: Greg Biffle led the final 106 laps and beat Jason Leffler at Phoenix Raceway for his 20th and final Xfinity Series win.