|Race 8 of 36 in the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
Layout of Talladega Superspeedway
|Date||April 6, 2003|
|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||Mild with temperatures approaching 78.1 °F (25.6 °C); wind speeds reaching up to 12 miles per hour (19 km/h)|
|Average speed||144.625 miles per hour (232.751 km/h)|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports|
|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 2003 Aaron's 499 was held on April 6, 2003, at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. It was the 8th race of 36 in the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. Jeremy Mayfield was the polesitter.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the race, his first win of the season and fourth consecutive at Talladega, while Kevin Harvick finished second and Elliott Sadler finished third. This was also the fifth consecutive restrictor plate race win for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. stretching back to the previous year's spring Talladega race. There were six cautions, 16 different leaders, and 43 lead changes. The Big One did not take long, collecting 27 cars on the fourth lap -- the largest crash in a Cup race in the modern era.
On lap 4, as the field entered turn 1, Ryan Newman (who already had a violent blowover at the rain shortened Daytona 500 in February) blew a tire and smashed hard into the turn 1 wall, almost turning over on his side and spinning across the middle of the track, collecting an additional 26 cars. Mayhem ensued as cars behind him checked up trying to avoid Newman, whose car suddenly burst into flames. One of Newman's tires came off and got struck by Ricky Rudd's hood, causing it to bounce right over the catch fence and land in a restricted access area.
A total of 27 cars were involved, making it the largest recorded crash in the history of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. It was also the second largest-crash overall in modern NASCAR, behind a 30 car crash on the back straightaway in Talladega's Busch race the year before. Damage to the cars involved ranged from no damage to severe damage; Hermie Sadler, Casey Mears, Johnny Benson and some others were out immediately. Rusty Wallace and Jerry Nadeau returned but retired after making a limited number of laps following repairs. Matt Kenseth and race winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also had minor damage. Kenseth finished inside the Top 10 on the lead lap. After the wreck, there were only 16 cars that did not have damage. During the Busch race the day prior, the "Big One" occurred in turn 4 on lap 10 when Johnny Sauter blew a tire in the middle of the pack, collecting 22 cars.
Perhaps the most well noted one involved was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who started in 43rd place because of an engine change after qualifying. In the crash, Earnhardt, Jr. went off the banking and down into the grass, making contact with Jeff Green's car that damaged his fender. He struggled for most of the race, at times going close to a half-lap down, until late in the race when he took the lead away from Matt Kenseth, who was also involved earlier, and won his fourth straight race at Talladega. Earnhardt, Jr. swept the weekend, having won the Busch Series race the previous day. Jimmie Johnson led the most laps of the race, but had a 15th-place finish when he spun out right before the white flag. By coincidence, the Big Ones that unfolded in both the weekend's Cup and Busch races were the result of a car blowing a tire in the middle of the track (Ryan Newman in turn 1 in the Cup race, Johnny Sauter in turn 4 in the Busch race).
Earnhardt, Jr. was involved in a controversial decision at the end of the race where it appeared he went below the yellow line in an attempt to improve position. As the cars were racing down the back straightaway, leader Matt Kenseth made a lane change, going to the outside to block Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt Jr. was on the inside and was drafting with Elliott Sadler when Kenseth started moving low in an attempt to block Earnhardt; Earnhardt stormed well below the line entering the turn three apron as he passed Kenseth. NASCAR ruled that Earnhardt was forced below the line as his car's nose had already passed Kenseth's nose by the time Kenseth made the block, making it a clean pass in their opinion, this even though Earnhardt was nowhere close to clearing Kenseth when he hit the apron -- what the rule was ostensibly intended to prevent. Some sanctioning bodies, such as the Indy Racing League, would have called Kenseth for violating the blocking rule -- a driver is not allowed to make two lane changes on a straightaway, which is a penalty; the ethic against blocking, however, holds no weight in NASCAR given the fendered nature of the cars. The yellow line rule's absurdity belatedly led to discussion in the sanctioning body in January 2010 to possibly rescind it, though it was decided to maintain the rule "for the time being," according to NASCAR official Robin Pemberton.
In the years to come, the yellow lines would provide several controversial moments, such as Regan Smith being penalized by passing Tony Stewart below the yellow line in the fall race in 2008. NASCAR decided to put another yellow line for the next year, in both Daytona and Talladega.
|1||8||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||Dale Earnhardt Inc.|
|2||29||Kevin Harvick||Chevrolet||Richard Childress Racing|
|3||38||Elliott Sadler||Ford||Robert Yates Racing|
|4||32||Ricky Craven||Pontiac||PPI Motorsports|
|5||5||Terry Labonte||Chevrolet||Hendrick Motorsports|
|6||40||Sterling Marlin||Dodge||Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates|
|7||22||Ward Burton||Dodge||Bill Davis Racing|
|8||24||Jeff Gordon||Chevrolet||Hendrick Motorsports|
|9||17||Matt Kenseth||Ford||Roush Racing|
|10||31||Robby Gordon||Chevrolet||Richard Childress Racing|
|11||45||Kyle Petty||Dodge||Petty Enterprises|
|12||88||Dale Jarrett||Ford||Robert Yates Racing|
|13||9||Bill Elliott||Dodge||Evernham Motorsports|
|14||43||John Andretti||Dodge||Petty Enterprises|
|15||48||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet||Hendrick Motorsports|
|16||74||Tony Raines||Chevrolet||BACE Motorsports|
|17||23||Kenny Wallace||Dodge||Bill Davis Racing|
|18||19||Jeremy Mayfield||Dodge||Evernham Motorsports|
|19||97||Kurt Busch||Ford||Roush Fenway|
|20||1||Steve Park||Chevy||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|21||25||Joe Nemechek||Chevy||Hendrick Motorsports|
|22||16||Greg Biffle||Ford||Roush Fenway|
|23||77||Dave Blaney||Ford||Jasper Motorsports|
|24||15||Michael Waltrip||Chevy||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.|
|25||20||Tony Stewart||Chevy||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|26||6||Mark Martin||Ford||Roush Racing|
|27||42||Jamie McMurray||Dodge||Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates|