Rookie driver Regan Smith crossed the start/finish line in first place at the end of Sunday's Amp Energy Drink 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, but it was Tony Stewart who was celebrating his first 2008 Sprint Cup series win in victory lane.
NASCAR awarded Stewart the win after the powers-that-be decided that Smith's move under Stewart as the field came through the tri-oval for the final time was illegal.
For Stewart, it was the best of times as he celebrated a win at a track he's never won at in Sprint Cup competition despite finishing second six times at the track, but for Smith, it was a heartbreaking defeat that left him with plenty of questions -- as well as everyone that watched the race.
Smith got a run on Stewart as they came to the checkered flag of the 188-lap race, faked high, then dove low under Stewart. Stewart chopped down, made contact with Smith, and sent Smith's No. 01 Dale Earnhardt Inc. car under the yellow line that NASCAR has determined is out-of-bounds at Talladega.
The move didn't stop Smith's momentum and he drove by Stewart's No. 20 Toyota to cross the line first -- presumably scoring the biggest upset of a win in years for NASCAR's top division.
But it wasn't to be, and Smith was scored after the race as the first car one lap down in 18th position thanks to NASCAR penalizing him for trying for the win.
The controversial finish will likely be debated for much of the coming week, and I'd expect Dale Earnhardt Inc. to file an appeal of the finish -- though it's hard to win an appeal against a sport that officiates its races on Sunday and runs the business side of it on Monday.
The rest of the 500-miler's Top-5 finishers included -- or Top-6 depending on if Smith's penalty holds -- Paul Menard, David Ragan, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer.
The ending, though, was fitting for a long, crazy day at the Alabama track known for its big wrecks and close finishes after two wrecks each collected over 10 cars -- including many contenders for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Point leader Jimmie Johnson, Stewart, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer appeared to leave the wild card track as the least unscathed of the championship contenders.
Johnson still holds on to the point lead in the Chase by some 68 points over Carl Edwards and 73 over Greg Biffle -- both of whom were caught up in a big wreck with 14 laps to go. Jeff Burton remained fourth and Clint Bowyer jumped two spots to 5th.
Stewart's win catapulted the No. 20 four spots to 7th in the standings, though he's still 199 points from the lead.