|Race 9 of 36 in the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
Layout of Talladega Superspeedway
|Date||April 21, 2002|
|Location||Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Alabama|
|Course||Permanent racing facility
2.66 mi (4.28 km)
|Distance||188 laps, 500.08 mi (804.8 km)|
|Weather||Hot with temperatures approaching 87.1 °F (30.6 °C); wind speeds up to 14 miles per hour (23 km/h)|
|Average speed||159.022 miles per hour (255.921 km/h)|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|No. 8||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|Television in the United States|
|Network||Fox Broadcasting Company|
|Announcers||Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds|
The 2002 Aaron's 499 was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event that was held on April 21, 2002, at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. won the race, his first of the season and the second of his four straight wins at Talladega. His teammate Michael Waltrip finished second and Kurt Busch finished third.
From the green flag, Jimmie Johnson got off to a good start, leading the first eight laps. On lap 8, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passed Johnson and assumed the lead for all but two of the next 42 laps; Jeremy Mayfield led lap 33 and Michael Waltrip led lap 40. On lap 50, Sterling Marlin claimed the lead, and led two laps before Matt Kenseth passed him for the lead. Kenseth led until lap 56, when Earnhardt, Jr. regained the lead. Earnhardt, Jr. led until lap 65, when Mayfield assumed the lead, again for only a lap before losing the lead to Earnhardt. He continued to lead until lap 82 when Waltrip claimed it again. Waltrip led until lap 95, when Ryan Newman passed him and led lap 96. Earnhardt, Jr. claimed the lead on the next lap and led until lap 105, for a cycle of green flag pit stops. During these pit stops, the lead cycled through Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Kenseth before returning to Earnhardt, Jr. on lap 114. On lap 116, the first caution came out for debris. Kenseth assumed the lead under caution, but Earnhardt, Jr. got the lead back at the restart on lap 120. Over the next few laps, the lead would change between Martin, Kenseth and Newman, before Earnhardt, Jr. got a big lead on lap 131. He would lead the next 31 laps.
On lap 141, Ryan Newman got out of the race when his car had an engine failure, and was credited with a last place finish.
On lap 163, Dale Jarrett managed to take the lead away from Earnhardt, Jr. For the next two laps, Earnhardt, Jr. and Jarrett were racing almost side-by-side. On lap 165, the second caution came out for a very large crash on the back straightaway. It started when Jimmie Johnson shuffled Kyle Petty out of line in turn 1. Coming on to the backstretch, Petty found a spot in line, but the whole field accordioned up behind him, causing Mike Wallace to force Tony Stewart against the outside wall. A 24-car crash unfolded, one day after the largest recorded crash in NASCAR history (30 cars) occurred in exactly the same location in the Busch race. The cars that were involved were Steve Park, Rusty Wallace, Mike Skinner, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Casey Atwood, Bill Elliott, Johnny Benson, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Kevin Harvick, Robby Gordon, Ricky Craven, Mike Wallace, Jimmy Spencer, John Andretti, Steve Grissom, Bobby Hamilton, Geoff Bodine and Ricky Rudd. Sadler took the biggest hit in the wreck by slamming the corner of the inside wall on the right side, while Benson had to be pulled out of his car after it caught fire on pit road. However, all of the drivers involved escaped injury.
Earnhardt, Jr. assumed the lead from Jarrett after pit stops under caution and led the last 23 laps to win. With ten laps to go, oil leaked from Stewart's car and Martin's wounded car stalled. The race was temporarily red-flagged to clean the track. With four laps left, the green flag waved. Earnhardt, Jr. led the four lap shootout, managing to hold off Waltrip and beat his teammate to the line by 0.100 seconds. Attendance figures were never recorded for this event. All of the drivers were born in the United States of America. This would primarily become the status quo of the Sprint Cup Series until the introduction of Juan Pablo Montoya at the 2006 Ford 400.
Ryan Newman's last-place finish was the only DNF due to a problem other than crash damage. Winnings for this race ranged from the winner's purse of $184,830 ($246,109.44 when adjusted for inflation) to the humble last-place winnings of $58,022 ($77,258.90 when adjusted for inflation). Compared to the previous day's Busch race crash, in which only three cars had fnished on the lead lap, 21 cars finished on the lead lap in the Cup race.