I have never stood at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the last lap of a race - and I've been there for 16 - where the crowd wasn't standing for the last lap. For all of them, the final lap of a close race is always a moment frozen in time.
The Joe Gibbs Racing crew scrambles to service J.J. Yeley during his first pit stop.
It is lap 159 of the 2006 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Jimmie Johnson (Lowe's Chevrolet #48) has seized the lead for a third time, and this time isn't letting it go. Kasey Kahne (Dodge #9), in the lead at a few points during the end, saw pole-sitter and long-time leader Jeff Burton (Cingular Chevrolet #31) drop way back, and had his eyes on Kevin Harvick (Reese's Chevrolet #29) who was trading first and second position with Johnson throughout the last 30 laps.
The leader sees the white flag. It is lap 160. Kahne, eager to race for that last line, gives it all he's got. But his car gets "loose," as these cars can do right at the end, and strikes the SAFER barrier head-first. Trying to avoid an incident, Robby Gordon (Johns Manville Chevrolet #7) taps Greg Biffle (National Guard Ford #16). No one is hurt.
The crowd knew what this meant. Over the public address system, the voice of Dave Calabro verified the news everyone had expected. The field was frozen. The order of finish was known, and the race was still going. Jimmie Johnson had an early victory lap.
There were no controversies. No complaining drivers. No protests filed. Nobody whining over lost traditions. The race was made safer, and lives were saved, never mind the sacrifice of a silly showdown.
For the NASCAR Mobile Technology Center team, it was mission accomplished.