Tale of the Talledega Tape
Clint Bowyer earned a wild-and-wooly Talladega Superspeedway victory on the closing circuit of a 188-lap battle when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series officials ruled his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was inches ahead of his teammate Kevin Harvick's No. 29 car at the exit of Turn 1 as a race-ending, five-car accident broke out on the frontstretch.
In an Alabama restrictor-plate special that generated 87 lead changes among 26 drivers, Bowyer held the lead a race-best nine times for a total of 19 laps. He led the field to a caution restart with four laps remaining and was pushed to the front of the pack by drafting partner and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42.
The tandem battled for the lead with a second drafting duo of Harvick and Michael Waltrip Racing driver David Reutimann in the No. 00 car. While the drafting partners were deciding a nip-and-tuck battle for the top spot on the final lap, a tightly packed field broke loose behind them and brought out the seventh and final caution period of the day. NASCAR officials reviewed video tapes and scoring reports to determine that Bowyer led Harvick at the time the caution flag waved.
Bowyer completed a hard-fought day with his second victory, seventh top-five and 17th top-10 finish of the season. Harvick placed second, Montoya ended the race third, Reutimann took fourth and Joe Gibbs Racing rising star Joey Logano rounded out the race top five. "Unbelievable day. I want to thank Juan, I couldn't have done it without him. Just very, very happy for a lot of reasons. Everybody at RCR has worked very hard to get us back (following a point penalty after the New Hampshire Chase race). To be able to win two races in a Chase for our race team is very important. Just proud of everybody to be able to give up our crew to make sure that Kevin had the best opportunity to win a championship. To win a race with his crew is what they needed and what we needed as a race team. You couldn't ask for a better day," Bowyer said. Harvick's 15th top-five and 23rd top-10 finish of the season help him gain 24 championship points on current leader and seventh-place race finisher Jimmie Johnson. Harvick will start the final three-race stretch of the season just 38 points off the top spot.
"I didn't know when the caution came out, but I thought we beat him (Bowyer) to the line. It was really close. I just have to thank David Reutimann, he pushed me all day, he was really good behind us and our car was kind of beat up in the front. It was just going to be a drag race to the end.
"We did what we needed to do. We kept it one, two in the right house. It's a good day for RCR and a good day in the points. We came here to lead some laps, run up front and try to win the race. We came up one (spot) short but we beat the guys we needed to," Harvick said.
Current Chase for the Sprint Cup second-place driver Denny Hamlin placed ninth in the race and gave back eight championship points to Johnson. Hamlin went a lap down in his No. 11 car on Lap 105, but rebounded to collect his 17th top-10 finish of the season. He sits 14 points behind Johnson.
"It'll be tight, everyone gained a little on everyone. It's hard not to be happy with our day because nobody gained our lost and that's what I wanted. I didn't want anyone to have the championship lost at this race.
"I wish I could've raced more aggressive and had a little bit better show, but with our format, you can't do that. You have to have the safe play. We got a solid finish, but I hate saying that, I wish we were a little further to the front.
"I like that the championship will be decided on three racetracks the drivers and teams can control. Let the best man win," Hamlin said.
Johnson wheeled to his 19th top-10 finish of the season working with various drafting partners through the closing laps of the race.
"Our strategy played out. I don't know what happened on that last restart. Every car behind the No. 77 abandoned the 77 and myself, we lost our momentum and it got us out of sequence. The No. 56 (Martin Truex, Jr.) gave me a great push. I had a couple guys trying to block the huge runs that we had coming and that would get me disconnected from the car pushing me. All in all, it was a decent day. I wished would could've finished a little better but we'll take it," Johnson said.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup continues Nov. 7 at Texas Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m., on Performance Racing Network radio and Sirius XM Channel 128. ESPN will wave the green flag on its coverage at 3:00 p.m.
Story by Mike Schmaltz