The 2006 UAW-Ford 500 was a stock car racing competition that took place on October 8, 2006. The 38th annual running of the UAW-Ford 500, it was held at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, before 160,000 spectators; the 188-lap race was the thirtieth in the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series and the fourth in the ten-race, season-ending Chase for the Nextel Cup. Brian Vickers of Hendrick Motorsports won the race; Kasey Kahne finished second, and Kurt Busch came in third.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. filled in for Dale Jr.'s regular spotter for this race, guiding his son around the track. David Gilliland, who had the pole position, was passed immediately by teammate Dale Jarrett. The race lead changed 63 times, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading for the most laps (37). Earnhardt Jr. was leading on the final lap when he and Jimmie Johnson crashed after Vickers made contact with Johnson's right rear quarter panel, causing the race to end under caution flag conditions. Vickers (Johnson's teammate) was determined the race winner by NASCAR and was later criticized since the crash lowered Johnson in the points standings.
The victory was the first in Vickers' career. After the race, Jeff Burton maintained his Drivers' Championship points lead, although that lead decreased significantly because he had a flat tire during the final laps of the race. Chevrolet maintained its lead in the Manufacturers' Championship, 51 points ahead of Dodge and 52 ahead of Ford with six races remaining in the season. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was infuriated after the race, calling for Brian Vickers to be fined and having a physical altercation with Vickers and Hendrick during post-race celebrations, causing Dale Sr. to be fined and suspended from participating in races for the rest of the season.
Live television coverage of the race, the thirtieth of thirty-six in the 2006 season, began in the United States at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on NBC. Rev. Mike Jackson gave the invocation at 2:20, followed by the 151st Army Band's rendition of the national anthem. The command for the drivers to start their engines was given by Gary Casteel of the UAW, and no driver had to move to the rear of the grid at the start.
The race began at 2:41 p.m. Jarrett passed Gilliland almost immediately to lead the first lap, but lost the lead to Jeff Gordon a lap later. Jamie McMurray passed Gordon for the lead on lap 4; by this time, Gilliland had fallen back to 30th after losing the draft. Three laps later Gordon regained the lead from McMurray, with drafting assistance from Vickers. On lap 18 McMurray reclaimed the lead from Gordon, and they exchanged the lead again two laps later. On lap 24 McMurray reclaimed the lead, and Kenny Wallace made a pit stop with his car smoking. On lap 28, Biffle took the lead from McMurray and Earnhardt Jr, moved into the top five. Green-flag pit stops were made from laps 30 to 33, with Biffle maintaining his lead. On lap 35 he was passed by Stewart, who lost the lead to Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch two laps later. On the 38th lap, Earnhardt took the lead. Busch passed him on lap 41, with Earnhardt (in the outside lane) dropping back to seventh. On lap 46 Kenseth passed Kyle Busch for the lead, with Kurt Busch and Earnhardt Jr. passing Kenseth five laps later.
Earnhardt Jr. reclaimed the lead on lap 52, losing it seven laps later to Elliott Sadler. Sadler refueled on the next lap, giving the lead back to Earnhardt Jr.. Kenseth took the lead on lap 61, as Earnhardt and others made green-flag pit stops. Kenseth stopped on lap 71 with Biffle and Edwards, with Biffle taking the lead as the pit-stop cycle ended. Lap 72 saw the first caution, as Blaney's left rear tire shredded and he made a pit stop. Biffle, Edwards and Sterling Marlin stayed out, while the others stopped.
Biffle led the field back up to speed at the restart, and was passed on lap 77 by Jeff Gordon. Three laps later, Sadler made a pit stop with a flat right rear tire. On lap 90 Kyle Busch took the lead, losing it to Gordon on the next lap. Earnhardt passed Gordon on lap 93, holding the lead for nine laps. Vickers took the lead on lap 102; Earnhardt's left front tire went flat the next lap, costing him a lap. Green-flag pit stops began on lap 107, with Vickers stopping on lap 108 and giving the lead to McMurray. After the pit stops, Vickers regained the lead.
On lap 121 Kyle Busch took the lead, losing it to Jeff Gordon two laps later. Within a lap Gordon lost the draft and fell back to 27th, allowing Kenseth to regain the lead. On lap 127 Clint Bowyer passed Kenseth, holding the lead for two laps until a second yellow flag was displayed due to debris. Hamlin and Michael Waltrip staggered their pit stops, enabling each of them to lead a lap under the caution. Bowyer regained the lead after Waltrip stopped, and the race restarted on lap 134. Kenseth moved back into the lead on the next lap, with Bowyer falling back to tenth.
In a multi-car accident on the first turn of lap 137 Edwards and Mears collided, involving Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Harvick, Marlin, McMurray, Kyle Petty and Martin Truex Jr. Gordon drove straight to the garage and others made pit stops, giving the lead to Burton. The race restarted on lap 145, during which many drivers topped up with fuel. Kenseth regained the lead; Vickers passed him on lap 147, with Johnson taking the lead a lap later. That lap Reed Sorenson's engine failed, ending his race.
Truex Jr. stayed out of pit road, and led the field to the restart on lap 152 before Johnson passed him a lap later. On lap 154 Paul Menard took the lead, with drafting assistance from Earnhardt Jr., before Johnson regained the lead a lap later. Kahne took the lead on lap 158, losing it to Earnhardt on lap 165. A five-car accident on turn two of lap 173, involving Yeley, Menard, Stewart, Stremme and Hamlin, prompted the fifth caution; none of the leaders made pit stops during this caution. The race restarted on lap 178, with Earnhardt Jr. leading Johnson and Vickers. That lap, Burton (in fifth) had a flat left rear tire and lost a lap. The field then formed a single line, with most remaining in that formation for the rest of the race. Dale Earnhardt Sr. kept instructing Jr. on the final laps, trying desperately to get his son the win, telling him to watch for when Johnson would make a move on the last lap. On the final lap, Johnson and Vickers left turn two with Johnson moving out of line to pass Earnhardt Jr.. Dale Earnhardt Sr. told Dale Jr. to get down and block quick, which he attempted to do, when Vickers tried to move out with Johnson to provide drafting assistance, he clipped Johnson's right rear quarter panel. Johnson clipped Earnhardt Jr.'s left rear corner panel sending both drivers into the infield. The yellow flag went out and the field was frozen in place, with the order of finish determined by where the drivers were when the caution began. This gave Vickers the victory (the first of his career), although he was booed by the crowd and ended up in a physical altercation with Dale Earnhardt Sr..