Usually the closing laps at Talladega Superspeedway are a frantic scramble; a mad dash where drivers brazenly jockey for position.
This wasn't the case however, in Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500.
Instead of three- and four-wide racing that leaves the finish in doubt until the very end, drivers seemed content to ride around the high groove single-file. A few attempted to make the bottom lane work as the laps ticked by, but without support those who tried quickly fell backwards.
What made the final laps so astounding was that much of the afternoon featured side-by-side racing. But whether it was because drivers were overly cautious -- be it for fear of triggering the "big one" or losing valuable points in what is a tight championship battle -- the action never intensified even as the white flag waved.
"Shocking. Shocking," Jeff Gordon said when asked about the outbreak of single-file racing. "You never know. I mean it's smart for those guys up front to do that because it eliminates a lot of cars out of the running for the win. But I've never seen guys have that much patience here in my life. So I was pretty shocked to see them just holding that line like they did."
The one driver who did try and make something happen on the final lap was Austin Dillon, driving for the injured Tony Stewart and making his first Sprint Cup start at Talladega.
Dillon was third on the final lap tucked in behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was second and closely following race-leader Jamie McMurray. And as the field roared off of Turn 2, Dillon appeared to be sizing up Earnhardt to make a charge for the lead.
But either because of contact with fourth-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or simply because he lost control of his Chevrolet, Dillon spun out and was drilled by Casey Mears. The contact was such that Dillon was launched into the air.
"I was trying to go for the win there," Dillon said. "The No. 17 (Stenhouse) had a little bit of a run with the No. 27 (Paul Menard) and I tried to go with him and came back across and hooked me. ... I was going to push (Earnhardt) right there. He had a pretty good car. Just trying to wait until the end and they made a move and I tried to block it and it didn't work out."
Among those who tried in vain to work their way to front were Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, who, respectively, entered Talladega first and second in the standings.
Johnson led a race-high 47 laps, but was shuffled down the running order after making his final stop of the day 28 laps from the finish. He tried numerous times to mount a charge, even getting as high as seventh at one point, but each time his rally was stunted when no one would pull out to push him.
"The outside lane got going and everybody jumped up in it," Johnson said. "You just don't know if people are going to chase the bottom or the top and when I saw (McMurray) had the lead I figured (he) and (Earnhardt) would take the top. As that developed I was on the bottom lane and I worked my way to the middle lane and was able to maintain it for a little while and then everybody went single file and I dropped like a rock."
Kenseth also attempted to make a move as the circuits wound down, aware that every position represented a valuable point. But like Johnson, he never was able to make the lower groove work and never found a drafting partner to push him towards the front.
"... I thought everybody would mix it up at the end and try to make a race out of it," Kenseth said. "But everybody stayed up on the top and pedaled it. That was my bad. I guess I should have just been happy with 10th, but I just have a hard time doing that."
Kenseth finished 20th. Meanwhile, Johnson was scored 13th and took the championship lead over from his rival by four points with four races remaining. Neither, however, could explain why with so much on the line there was so little passing.
"Nobody wanted to go," Kenseth said. "Everybody wanted to stay in their spots. I should have been smarter there and I guess paid attention to points, but I'm not really wired like that. I want to go up and mix it up and try to win the thing."