Chase heats up as Bowyer takes victory
In a win that was vindication for Clint Bowyer, all three leading Chase contenders dodged potential trouble Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup tightened dramatically.
Bowyer had nosed ahead of Richard Childress Racing team-mate Kevin Harvick in Turn 1 on the 188th and final lap of the Amp Energy Juice 500 when a violent wreck behind them sent AJ Allmendinger upside down into the inside wall, caused the fifth caution of the race and froze the field as it ran.
By virtue of his runner-up finish, Harvick trimmed his points deficit to Chase leader Jimmie Johnson to 38 points. On the strength of a late surge from the rear of the field, Johnson came home seventh, two positions ahead of Denny Hamlin, his closest pursuer in the championship battle.
Johnson leads Hamlin by 14 points with three races left in the Chase.
The victory — Bowyer’s first at a restrictor-plate track — was his second of the Chase, his second this season and the fourth of his career. It also eased the sting of a 150-point penalty after his win in the first Chase race at New Hampshire, when his car failed post-race inspection by 60 thousandths of an inch.
The anxious moments for Hamlin began on Lap 77 when he was shuffled to the back of the field and lost the draft. Falling behind at a rate of almost four seconds per lap, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota went a lap down when Harvick passed him through Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 105.
Hamlin didn’t recover the lost circuit until Lap 144, when he got a free pass back to the lead lap under caution for a seven-car wreck on the backstretch that damaged the front end of Harvick’s No. 29 and the rear of Johnson’s No. 48.
The damage, however wasn’t sufficient to hurt either car significantly, and throughout the remainder of the race, all three drivers worked their way toward the front.
For Australian driver Marcos Ambrose, it was another meeting of disappointment. In the midst of drama regarding his future (CLICK HERE for Speedcafe.com.au’s weekend story), Ambrose led the Talledega race, but luck wasn’t on the side as he registered a 34th place finish.
Ambrose was running competitively throughout the event, but a late race bump sent him into a spin, damaging his car, and any chance of victory.
Backing off at the finish, Ambrose avoided the ‘big one,’ however the final caution came too late to allow him back around onto the lead lap.
“We had a quick car out there today, but once again things didn’t work out as planned,” Ambrose said.
“The speed was there to run with the best of them, and we were lining up for a big finish.
“It’s a shame about the spin, but that’s racing in the pack at Talladega.
“The crew did an awesome job to get the car back out there running, we tried playing the waiting game, but the cautions never came.
“Even though the season is winding up, we’re still giving it everything – bring on Texas next weekend.”
Talladega Superspeedway- Amp Energy Juice 500
1. Clint Bowyer (Chevrolet)
2. Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet)
3. Juan Pablo Montoya (Chevrolet)
4. David Reutimann (Toyota)
5. Joey Logano (Toyota)
6. Martin Truex Jnr (Toyota)
7. Jimmie Johnson (Chevrolet)
8. Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet)
9. Denny Hamlin (Toyota)
10. Brad Keselowski (Dodge)
34. Marcos Ambrose (Toyota)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings (after race 33 of 36)
1. Jimmie Johnson (Chevrolet)- 6149 points
2. Denny Hamlin (Toyota)- 6139
3. Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet)- 6126
4. Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet)- 5934
5. Kyle Busch (Toyota)- 5919
6. Carl Edwards (Ford)- 5902
7. Tony Stewart (Chevrolet)- 5841
8. Matt Kenseth (Ford)- 5825
9. Kurt Busch (Dodge)- 5796
10. Jeff Burton (Chevrolet)- 5797
11. Clint Bowyer (Chevrolet)- 5788
12. Greg Biffle (Ford)- 5767
26. Marcos Ambrose (Toyota)- 3113