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RCR finishes 1-2; Chase field narrows
by Matt Taliaferro
And then, there were five. So it seems. Maybe. The one thing that is beyond debate is Clint Bowyer’s continued strength on NASCAR’s plate tracks. Bowyer made a last-lap pass of teammate Jeff Burton in the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2011.
It was Bowyer’s second victory in the last three Talladega events and third straight finish of first or second. It was also his final plate-track start for team owner Richard Childress, as Bowyer will head to Michael Waltrip Racing at season’s end.
“It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard,” Bowyer said. “Everybody at RCR — it’s like family over there. (It) meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal.
“The stars were lined up today with having the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet (paint scheme) on the racecar. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s 100th win. Too many things meant to be for it not to be. I’m excited that it was.”
Childress stood to pick up his organization’s 100th win one way or another. Bowyer and Burton, who combined to lead 51 laps on the afternoon, led the field to green with two laps remaining following a vicious wreck involving Regan Smith, Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya.
The duo’s restart was flawless, and they quickly drafted away from a snarling pack of cars jockeying for position.
“Right at the split second I touched his bumper, one of the Red Bull cars hit me in the butt,” Bowyer said of the final restart. “It just launched us out there. The rest was history. I was able to get up through the gearbox, shove him (and) it got us away. At that split second, they came to a halt and split up and were racing two- and three-wide. We were able to drive off into the sunset.”
The tandem of Dave Blaney and Brad Keselowski — who worked with one another all day — finish third and fourth. Brain Vickers and Kasey Kahne were fifth and sixth.
Points leader Carl Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle stayed hooked together throughout the afternoon, as well. The Roush Fenway pair lagged back, staying out of harm’s way and avoiding three accidents in the race’s final 25 laps. Edwards increased his lead in the championship standings with an 11th-place showing. Matt Kenseth, who slipped to an 18th-place result, is second, 14 points back. Keselowski’s top-5 run slots him third, 18 points behind Edwards, while Tony Stewart’s seventh-place finish has him 19 markers out of the Chase lead.
“I don't know that I’ve ever been excited about 11th place,” Edwards said. “This race was one that is nerve-wracking for everyone. We came in here with a small points lead and we’re leaving with a bigger one. That’s a huge day for us.”
Jimmie Johnson’s bid for a sixth consecutive Sprint Cup championship may have taken a fatal blow. Johnson and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. were paired as drafting partners, but when it came time for one final run to the front, they stalled out, finishing 25th (Earnhardt) and 26th (Johnson).
“As we went to make our switch, the pack was organized and with the green-white-checkered situation, there’s not a lot of time to get organized,” said Johnson, now 50 points behind Edwards. “We lost our momentum there and got to the outside and kind of stalled out up on the top and finished far worse than we had hoped to.
“We’ll just keep fighting. Every position counts. Every spot counts. And I want to finish as high as I can in the points. If it isn’t the championship, I want to finish as high as I can possibly finish.”