Going into Talladega we all knew that we would see the two-car tandem racing that has plagued the restrictor plate tracks this season. And the Chase Race at Talladega was no different.
The start of the race is one that most fans dislike. We saw drivers going to the back because they believed if they ran in the back all day that they would have a better finish in the end. Well, this worked for few while others wrecked and finished in the back; while some drivers were left out to dry.
The race was fairly unexciting until a six-car wreck at lap 104 gashed the chances at a solid finish for Chase contenders Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. The lead pack of cars raced through the tri-oval, when a push from Marcos Ambrose turned his teammate A.J. Allmendinger, leading to severe front end damage on Harvick’s Chevrolet and heavy right side damage to Busch’s Toyota.
Busch took his car to the garage to fix the suspension, as smoke from a broken oil cooler plagued Harvick’s efforts. After attempts at repairing the No. 29 on pit road, Harvick was eventually black flagged by NASCAR and forced to the garage due to excessive smoke. Harvick returned to the track eight laps down and eventually finished nine laps down in 32nd. Busch also returned to the track to finish 33rd, 13 laps down.
Kurt Busch also saw his shot at winning the title in 2011 spiral out of control, when severe damage after contact with the No. 47 of Bobby Labonte crumpled Busch’s front-end. Busch immediately took his Dodge to the garage and did not return to the track, resulting in a 36th place finish. “Our championship hopes are done just because of this two-car Talladega draft,” said a disgruntled Busch.
A hard wreck involving Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin and Regan Smith silenced the crowd at lap 180. Contact between Hamlin and Martin sent the No. 5 into Smith, turning Smith directly into the outside wall.
Following an extended caution for cleanup and repairs to the SAFER barrier, a final restart with two to go saw the Hendrick cars drop outside of the top 20, with the exception of a damaged No. 5 wheeled by Martin who rebounded to finish 20th. Jeff Gordon, Martin’s original tandem partner, was unable to find a new “dance” partner and was shuffled back to 27th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson finished just ahead of their teammate in 25th and 26th, respectively. Earnhardt Jr. was unable to find Johnson on the restart, and the tandem ended up dropping nearly 10 spots. Johnson now sits 50 points out of the points lead with just four races to go.
Points leader Carl Edwards, after restarting 23rd with two to go, pushed through the field with his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle just behind, finishing 11th and stretching his point lead to 14 over Matt Kenseth.
“I don’t know that I have ever been so excited about 11th place,” said Edwards. “This race was one that was nerve-racking for everyone but we came in here with a small points lead and that was a huge day for us. I cannot believe how much Greg (Biffle) helped us today. I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day. On the last lap he was driving my car from back there.
But Clint Bowyer muscled past his Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton coming through the tri-oval to win Sunday’s race at Talladega Super Speedway.
Bowyer, who is leaving RCR for Michael Waltrip Racing next season, edged Burton to the line by 0.018 seconds to earn his first win of the 2011 season and the 100th win for the team he has been with his whole career. “It was a pretty calm day, to be honest, kind of methodical,” said Bowyer. “We wanted to stay up front. I told him we needed to stay up front, that way when the time comes, we’re ready for it and we can race the way we should race. I was trying to figure out where to pass him, and said ‘I’m at least going to give a shot at it.’ And I knew it was going to be a drag race.”
Dave Blaney, with a hard push from Brad Keselowski, finished third just behind the RCR pair. Keselowski scored a fourth place finish followed by the Red Bull Racing tandem of Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers. Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Michael Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10.