Mere inches separated Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as they crossed the line - the ultimate fantastic finish between the sport's two biggest stars.
If only it had been for the win.
Ryan Newman won the Samsung Radio Shack 500 Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, but few watched him take the checkered flag. Not with so much drama unfolding behind him.
Gordon and Earnhardt swapped paint on the last lap, Gordon trying to take away second place, Earnhardt refusing to give up the position. Junior nipped him by .002 seconds.
"Jeff, he knows exactly how much bumper to give to somebody to move them out of the way without spinning them out," Earnhardt said. "He knows good and well if he had wrecked me, he would have had to deal with the consequences. And that's not a fun thing having to go through a year watching your back all the time."
But it sure would be fun for everyone else. NASCAR fans would love nothing more than to see a rivalry develop between Gordon and Earnhardt: The squeaky clean four-time Winston Cup champion versus the rough-edged son of the Intimidator.
Pick a side.
Sunday's half-lap skirmish for second place was a welcome reminder of the good-natured exchanges between Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt. It also was a glimpse of the future - we hope.
Neither driver's car was handling well when Gordon nudged Earnhardt's rear bumper in Turn 3, lifting the rear wheels off the ground just enough to force Junior out of the bottom groove. Gordon went low to make the pass, but Earnhardt pinned him there coming off Turn 4.
"We got to moving each other around, but it was clean racing," Earnhardt said. "I just pinched him down and gave him no room to get on the gas, no room to really accelerate off the corner. It was either drive up in the side of me or back off."
Gordon backed off.
"He just ran me down low, and we slid around and bumped and banged," Gordon said. "It was fun. But if it had been for first, it would have been a lot different deal."
"I think Jeff would have done something different," he said.
Can't wait to see it.
LEAD LAP FLAP: Drivers continue to disagree about the practice of the race leader allowing drivers to get back on the lead lap when a caution flag waves.
The problem: teammates.
Cars getting back on the lead lap used to be an accomplishment, something earned by having a car strong enough to stay ahead of or within a few car lengths of the leader. But multicar teams now abuse the gentleman's agreement that prevents drivers from racing for position when a caution flies.
On Sunday, leader Matt Kenseth slowed to let Roush Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch back on the lead lap. Gordon, running second, preferred to keep Busch one lap down, so he passed Kenseth to get to the line ahead of Busch.
NASCAR overruled him, returning Kenseth to the lead and putting Busch on the lead lap for the restart.
"That just blows me away," Gordon said. "I don't understand it. We are racing those guys not only for a win but for a championship, and I just didn't think there was any reason for me to let them have a lap back."
He has a point.
Gordon had no problem with Kenseth resuming the lead. But the gentleman's agreement, Gordon said, does not extend to lapped cars. If giving someone a lap back requires the leader to slow to a crawl, the leader cannot expect his competitors to play along.
NEMECHECK PENALTIES: Joe Nemechek's wife was fined $25,000 and his Busch series crew chief was suspended for two races after Nemechek's car failed postrace inspection Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway because of an illegal left front spring.
Andrea Nemechek was fined because she is listed as owner of the No. 87 Chevrolet her husband races in the series. Crew chief Eric Phillips was fined $5,000 and will miss this week's race at Talladega and the event April 12 at Nashville. He also is suspended from participating in any other NASCAR events through April 16.
HOT: Busch, who rallied to finish ninth among 12 cars on the lead lap, has five top 10s this season.
- Information from Times wires was used in this report.