Conventional wisdom tells you that whoever leads going into the final lap at Talladega is not going to be the man claiming the chequered flag 2.666 miles later. Being out front on this draft-heavy track is the same as having a huge bulls-eye painted on your back, as Kyle Busch had found out just the previous day in the Nationwide Series race he lost to Joey Logano in the final run to the flag.
So Kyle must have thought he'd set himself up perfectly when he came into that final corner in second place, pushing Brad Keselowski ahead of him and just waiting for the moment to pull out and snatch the win. Except Keselowski had other ideas.
"I had this whole plan if I ever got in that situation where I was leading," admitted Keselowski. "I thought about it and thought about it. Dreamed about what to do. And sure enough, going into 3, it was just me and Busch. And I knew the move I wanted to pull."
To get to that point of the afternoon had been a huge test of endurance, patience, mechanical reliability and a hefty dose of good luck, in a race that saw only 19 of the 43-car grid make it to the end of the race on the lead lap. Most of the big incidents came toward the end of the race, while the first half of the three-hour event was dominated by drivers making sure that their engines didn't overheat and fail prematurely.
"It's fun to be able to race and have to watch the gauges at the same time," was the dry tongue-in-cheek view of a clearly fed-up reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart after the race. "Being able to make yourself run on the apron and everything else to try to get clean air, it makes it fun. I'm sorry we couldn't crash more cars today. We didn't fill the quota for today for Talladega and NASCAR," he added, keeping a totally straight face.
Although Jeff Gordon had claimed pole position on Saturday, he seemed to prefer to take the safer approach by heading to the back early on and instead it was Stewart who launched himself into the lead for the first stint of the race with assistance from Matt Kenseth over the pairing of Richard Petty Motorsport team mates Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola starting from the second row.
The first caution came out on lap 16 for an engine blow-up leaving oil on track: Regan Smith was the unlucky man at the wheel.
"All was going well," explained Smith's crew chief Pete Rondeau. "Regan started in the back, showed that he could drive to the front and then was settling in when the engine started to smoke. Very disappointing since we had high expectations today."
He would not be alone in exiting the race early due to an Chevrolet failure: Ryan Newman only made it to lap 42 before his engine packed up, and Jimmie Johnson had a failure on lap 61 that put him out of the race.