There were twenty six different leaders at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, but Clint Bowyer was the leader when it counted most. On the restart that followed the ninth caution of the race, Bowyer was pushing his Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton with 20 car lengths ahead of the pack racing behind them. Just before the checkered flag waved, Bowyer used a slingshot move on Burton, passing him just enough to get the win. This win marked RCR’s 100th win and Bowyer’s fifth Cup win in NASCAR. Bowyer will leave RCR at season’s end to join Michael Waltrip Racing in the 5 Hour Energy No. 15 Toyota.
Dega Wreaks Havoc on Chasers
On Lap 174, Michaeal Waltrip was pushing Bobby Labonte when Labonte lost control of his race car and spun in the middle of the turn. Kurt Busch had no where to go and drove straight into the side panel of Labonte. This destroyed the hood of Busch’s race car and ended his day. The elder Busch brother finished the race in 36th position, 15 laps down. This did not help his chances for the championship, knocking him down one spot in standings to eighth place, 52 points behind the leader.
Luckily for Kurt Busch, he isn’t the only Chase driver that struggled at Talladega. Hendrick Motorsports’ Chasers did not finish as expected on Sunday, coming home with 25th (Dale Earnhardt Jr), 26th (Jimmie Johnson), and 27th (Jeff Gordon) place finishes. All three drivers rode out the race in the back of the pack and just didn’t seem to have the momentum to race towards the front at the end.
Earnhardt remains in ninth position in standings, 74 points behind the leader. Thanks to others’ misfortune, Johnson moved up one position to seventh place, but is now 50 points behind the leader. Jeff Gordon also moved up one position; however, he is now 82 points behind the leader. I would say this is the end of Hendrick Motorsports’ chances to win the title. Johnson would be the only driver with a chance, but he would need the drivers ahead of him in the Chase to have substantial bad luck to overtake them.
Kevin Harvick came to Talladega only five points behind leader Carl Edwards. Leaving Talladega, he is in fifth position, now 26 points behind the leader. Early on in the race, Harvick had a fast car; he even led the race on six different occasions. But, he fell victim to a large pile-up on Lap 104 when AJ Allmendinger spun on the front-stretch. Harvick finished the race in 32nd position, nine laps down.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano worked well together early in the race. On Lap 67, as the duo was attempting to make green flag pit stops, Trevor Bayne cut in front of them, abruptly separating the pair. This caused Logano to spin his race car and forced Busch to drive down pit road to avoid an accident. Logano then blew a left-front tire on the backstretch, bringing out the caution. Busch was then sent to the rear of the field for failure to reduce speed while driving down pit road.
Busch was able to recover, leading the race on Lap 90 with help of his teammate, Denny Hamlin. After the pile-up on Lap 104, however, Busch was unable to race his way to the front and finished the race in 33rd position. Logano on the other hand, was able to push Tony Stewart to the lead of the race on Lap 136, despite the damage to his race car. Logano finished the race in 24th position. Busch is now sixth in standings, 40 points behind the leader.
Chase for the Sprint Cup
Carl Edwards remains the points leader after finishing in 11th position at Talladega. Fellow Roush driver Matt Kenseth sits second, 14 points behind Edwards. Brad Keselowski gained three spots in the standings, moving to third, just 18 points back. Tony Stewart moved up to fourth position after finishing the race in seventh place and is now 19 points behind Edwards.
Both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch dropped positions because of their misfortune and are now in fifth and sixth position. Rivals Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson are now right beside each other in standings, sitting in eighth and ninth position. Dale Jr and Jeff Gordon round out the top-10 in ninth and tenth positions, respectively. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman reside in 11th and 12th place, respectively.
Best Efforts of the Race
The Red Bull Racing team of Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne have to be recognized for their effort on Sunday. Kahne started 26th, Vickers 30th, and the two pushed their way into the top-five within 10 laps. They had troubles with the two-car tandem on Lap 159, causing Kahne to spin across the nose of Vickers to bring out a caution. But with 50 laps to go, the pair had already hooked back up and were headed to the front. Unfortunately they just couldn’t catch the RCR tandem, but still came home with fifth (Vickers) and sixth (Kahne) place finishes.
Dave Blaney’s third place finish at Talladega represented Tommy Baldwin’s Racing’s best finish yet at the Cup level. Blaney was in the battle at the front in both the Daytona 500 and the spring race at Talladega this year, but couldn’t get the finishes he deserved. This is a big step for a small organization with a short history in the sport. Team owner Tommy Baldwin hopes the Talladega finish is a step in the right direction for a more competitive season in 2012.
Landon Cassill and Casey Mears deserve a shout-out for their strong effort at Talladega. Before the race had even one lap in the books, Mear’s No. 13 GEICO Camry had moved from its 42nd starting position into 26th. On Lap 3, Mears paired up with Cassill to head to the front. They spent most of the race in the Top 5 and Top 10 until lap 174 when Mears lost his drafting partner. Cassill was collected in a turn two crash involving Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch, forcing Mears to find another dancing partner. Although their finishes of 16th and 17th do not represent their hard effort, the fact that they survived Talladega tells the story by itself!