This is part of a series of posts sponsored by Talladega Superspeedway. Whether you are making a week-long vacation out of it or coming just for a day, make sure to plan your Talladega experience today. This is more than a race. This is Talladega.
Many fans misinterpreted the whole "No cheering in the press box" debate that took place recently. Just because sports writers aren't allowed to cheer doesn't mean they can't let themselves get excited or thrilled by the events that unfold before their eyes.
For me, one such instance was last year's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. While some days on the NASCAR beat can be a grind, I drove out of 'Dega one year ago thinking, "I can't believe someone pays me to do this job."
The race was that awesome. And to be perfectly honest, it might just be my favorite race that I've ever covered.
Back at one of my old jobs, working at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Southern California, my boss and co-workers used to make fun of me on occasion because of my penchant for hyperbole.
I would come back from an exciting high school football game I'd just covered for the newspaper and proclaim, "That was the best game I've ever seen!" Then I'd say it again about a different game a month later, and again the next month – and they'd laugh each time.
So while I admit my judgment can be skewed by the adrenaline rush of witnessing a great sporting event, I still think the 2010 Aaron's 499 was the best race I've seen in person.
Why? Because in my mind, it was the perfect race.
Let's talk about what makes a great race:
• Lots of passing
• Lots of close racing
• Lots of different leaders
• A spectacular wreck or two (in which everyone emerges uninjured, of course)
• Controversy or tension between drivers
• An awesome finish (preferably won by a guy who doesn't win very often)
In that case, last year's 'Dega spring race had it all. If you need a refresher, the Aaron's 499 was the race that set the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record for both leaders (29 different drivers led at least one lap) and lead changes (the lead changed hands a whopping 88 times).
Then there was the tension between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (you probably remember Gordon's comment about Johnson "testing my patience." Gordon added then: "It takes a lot to make me mad, and I am pissed right now"). That was awesome.
The Gordon/Johnson incident sparked one of two notable wrecks that day, the other being a 10-car wreck about halfway through the race. Those kinds of things will always get fans' attention.
And then there was the finish. Kevin Harvick – who hadn't won a race since the 2007 Daytona 500 – perfectly timed his move on Jamie McMurray coming to the checkered flag, and beat McMurray to the line in a side-by-side finish.
The margin of victory? Just 0.11 second.
Truly, the race had every element a great race should have. Afterward, I was so thrilled by the day that I wrote an "Open Letter to NASCAR" about how memorable the race was.
I called it "the most enjoyable, entertaining, breathtaking race in a long time."
"It was a brilliant show, the kind of spectacle that made people remember why they ever came to like your sport in the first place," I added.
If my former co-workers at the newspaper would have read my open letter at the time, they probably would have poked fun at me for some more hyperbole.
But here's the thing: A year later, even with the adrenaline from the race long gone, I still feel that way. That's why I think I'm safe in saying the 2010 Aaron's 499 was my favorite race yet.