Nearly five years of frustration in a 166-race losing streak ended for Jamie McMurray in the blink of an eye, by a bumper, Saturday night.
That was the margin of victory for McMurray over Kyle Busch in the Pepsi 400.
McMurray, with an aerodynamic push from teammate Carl Edwards in the final moments, blasted through what only a few laps earlier appeared to be a parade of Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets.
"Huge thanks to Carl Edwards," McMurray said afterward. "He pushed me to the win." Busch, holding the inside line on the final lap, was getting a push from his older brother, Kurt.
But it wasn't enough to hold off the McMurray-Edwards freight tandem of Roush Fenway Racing Fords at the final second.
McMurray "was completely out of control, but he got it to the finish line first, and that's all that matters," said Jeff Gordon, who finished fifth.
"I actually hit the wall after I crossed the start-finish line," McMurray said. "I heard a lot of screaming on our radio channel, and I didn't know if it was because I'd hit the wall or because my guys were happy that we'd won.
"I went into turn 1 and waited for it [the channel] to clear, and I was like, 'Who won?' And they were like, 'You did.'"
When the final scramble was over, Kyle Busch and Gordon were the only two Hendrick drivers in the top five. Jimmie Johnson wound up 10th, and Casey Mears was punted in the draft all the way back to 19th.
Kurt Busch wound up third in a Penske Dodge, with Edwards fourth.
McMurray hadn't won since his second Cup start, at Charlotte in October 2002. He was considered a prodigy then, but as the years wore on, he drifted deeper and deeper into flash-in-the-pan status.
"This is more special to me, and I'll appreciate it more than Charlotte," McMurray said. "At Charlotte, I went home and went to sleep and didn't think much about it. Tonight, I'll go home and won't go to sleep. I'll just think about it."
In those years, "I grew up a lot," McMurray said. "I've realized you've got to have more than a good driver. You've got to have a good leader and all the elements of a team."
There was stark contrast in attribution to teammates by winner McMurray and loser Kyle Busch.
"I didn't get much help from my teammates tonight," said Busch, who will leave Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to make way for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join Gordon, Johnson and Mears. "I've got to thank my brother for pushing me there at the end and sticking with me."
McMurray, on the other hand, said Roush Fenway teammate Edwards would have been warranted at making a run for the victory himself.
"Carl had a really good run on the last lap and could have made it three wide at the finish," McMurray said. "Fortunately he was an incredible teammate and pushed me to the win."Clint Bowyer, who led the most laps of the evening, 55 of the 160, wound up seventh.
Bowyer led, pursued by the entire Hendrick squadron -- Mears, Johnson, Kyle Busch and Gordon -- as the seventh caution period ended with 13 laps to go.
Bowyer had shown the superior car all evening, but appeared to be a sitting duck for a Hendrick drafting train. The nearest non-Hendrick car was Kurt Busch, running sixth.
Mears was first to pass Bowyer, with 12 to go. Johnson was next, moving into second with 11 to go. Then Bowyer held off Gordon for third with 10 to go.
But Gordon shot all the way to the front with 9 1/2 laps left, just before the eighth caution came out when Brian Vickers and Joe Nemechek wrecked.
On the restart with seven to go, Hendrick cars occupied three of the top four positions and four of the top six.
Gordon started on the pole by virtue of his Nextel Cup points lead. He'd been only 30th fastest in time trials Friday night until rain forced cancellation of qualifying and left the field to be lined up by points.
But quickly he was challenged and passed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart -- and then those two wrecked each other.
Stewart's chances of three Pepsi 400 victories in a row vanished in the tangle with Hamlin on only the 15th lap, just when their Chevrolets appeared to be taking command of the race.
The wreck also collected Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte and Reed Sorenson.
Hamlin was leading and Stewart had slipped easily in behind him for second when suddenly Stewart bumped Hamlin from behind. Stewart radioed his crew that Hamlin had "checked up," meaning slowed suddenly.
Ed Hinton can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times