Lead changes were more than just a passing fancy in Sunday's running of the UAW-Ford 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The lead swapped hands 63 times among 23 drivers during the race, with the pass for the victory occurring midway through the final lap as Brian Vickers zipped past the spinning cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to pick up his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory.
It was the most lead changes in a race at Talladega Superspeedway since 1984, and it tied for the sixth-most in the modern-era of NASCAR. The 23 different drivers who led the race tied for the third-most in modern NASCAR history.
Vickers became the ninth driver in the 38-year history of Talladega Superspeedway to pick up his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory at the track, and the first to do so since Ken Schrader on July 31, 1988.
"Obviously your first career win is pretty exciting," Vickers said. "It is neat to be in Gatorade Victory Lane. I can't say enough for the Hendrick speedway department and the engine department as well. We had a strong car all day. We came down here and did the tire test. I felt like we helped Goodyear bring a great tire to the race track, but it helped us as well. We definitely changed our setup from what we normally run.
"I am so proud of this GMAC crew. These guys did a great job all day. Lance (McGrew) did an awesome job on the pit box making good calls - when to get tires, when not to, when to get fuel, when not to. We stayed out front all day."
Kasey Kahne finished second, followed by Kurt Busch in third, Matt Kenseth in fourth and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup rookie Martin Truex Jr. in fifth. Kevin Harvick came in sixth, Jeff Green seventh, Mark Martin eighth, Carl Edwards ninth and Bobby Labonte 10th.
Among the drivers competing in the Chase for the Championship who finished outside the top-10, Kyle Busch was 11th, Denny Hamlin 21st, Earnhardt Jr. 23rd, Johnson 24th, points-leader Jeff Burton 27th and Jeff Gordon 36th.
The largest crowd ever to attend an autumn race at Talladega Superspeedway turned out to watch the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event on the track's newly paved surface. The paving job received rave reviews from the drivers throughout the week leading up to the UAW-Ford 500, and after the race as well.
"I think the paving job they created here is the best job I've seen at any racetrack we go to recently," Kurt Busch said. "That's where the kudos need to go to, the paving crew. They did a good job smoothing the surface. It was seamless between the high lane, low lane, middle lane, wherever you go. It made it comfortable, and when you make a track more comfortable, it seems to equalize the cars even more."
That was evident by the frequency of lead changes in the race and the high number of drivers who led for at least one lap. Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps, but even he managed to hold on to the top spot for only 37 of the 188 trips around the 2.66-mile trioval.
Vickers led on five different occasions for a total of 17 laps. But none was sweeter than the final one, when he took the checkered flag for the first time in his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup career.
Afterward, Vickers dedicated the victory to the memories of Ricky Hendrick (the son of car owner Rick Hendrick) and Papa Joe Hendrick (Rick Hendrick's father), both of whom died last year.
"It was a great race for us, and it obviously means a lot to me personally to get this Hendrick GMAC No. 25 car back in Victory Lane," Vickers said. "This was Ricky and Papa Joe's car, and obviously I was very close to those guys. It means a lot to me personally to get this car in Victory Lane."