TALLADEGA, Ala._ It took nearly three minutes, but Clint Bowyer was finally announced the winner of Sunday’s AMP Energy Juice 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway. Getting a push from Juan Pablo Montoya, Bowyer was able to inch past teammate Kevin Harvick – who was getting pushed by David Reutimann – as they headed into the first turn on the final lap. Behind them, the ‘Big One’ happened just past the start-finish line, sending AJ Allmendinger flipping, freezing the field and ending the race.
While Harvick was able to beat Bowyer to the white flag, Bowyer’s momentum through the corner put him ahead of Harvick as the caution was thrown. Unsure of who had officially won, both drivers drove to the start/finish line, Bowyer celebrating with donuts.
After examining the replay and determining the exact moment the caution was thrown and who was ahead, Bowyer was declared the winner.
"I thought we had it for sure,” Bowyer said of the win. “When two cars hook up, they just drive off from them and they were coming on the outside and ran us down and then I quit dragging my brakes and we kind of took off again. Door to door there and all of a sudden Dillon (Mike, spotter) is yelling at me in my ear that the caution was coming out. I looked over to make sure I was ahead of him. I thought I was, but I didn't know.”
"I knew it was close,” Harvick said. “We came to the start/finish line, I thought I had beat him but I didn't know if the caution had come out at that particular time. Good day at RCR.”
The victory was Bowyer’s first at Talladega and also the fourth restrictor plate win for Earnhardt Childress Racing (Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Kevin Harvick won the April race at Talladega and the July race in Daytona).
“Clint Bowyer, he'll go down in history as one of the great restrictor plate racers, just like Kevin,” team owner Richard Childress said. “Him and Kevin both were up there. Didn't know which one won it. My grandson said, ‘We know we won it, so let's go to the winner's circle.’ I was sitting there kind of numb until he told me that.”
The second place run moved Harvick within 38 points of Jimmie Johnson in the Chase standings with only three races to go. Harvick is also only 24 points behind Denny Hamlin in second.
“When you go back and look at the stats over the last four years, top 10s do not cut it,” Harvick said. “You got to be in the top five and being up front every week. It's the same pace that he’s had this year, it's just the two of us have done a lot of the same things.
“You know, it's important to continue to do that over the next three weeks.”
Focused on Sunday’s race for weeks, Johnson was able to stay out of trouble and finish seventh, although he was originally scored in eighth.
Much like the race win, NASCAR took it’s time determining the final finishing order for much of the field, altering the original finish nearly a half an hour after the checkered flag. After their review, it was determined Johnson had finished in seventh, while Hamlin was moved from seventh to ninth.
Coming into the race with the game plan of keeping Johnson ahead of him all day, Hamlin was strong early but fell to the back of the pack to ride things out. In doing so, Hamlin lost the draft and went a lap down to the field on Lap 98.
While he was able to get the free pass and work his way back into contention, Hamlin ultimately ended the day in the ninth spot. Originally scored ahead of Johnson, NASCAR’s change to the finishing order dropped Hamlin to ninth, two spots behind Johnson.
“Just never ran all day,” Hamlin said. “I hate that I had to race like that. Unfortunately with our points format, it’s how you have to race. It was an up and down day. It looked like everyone broke even. I lost a little to the 48 (Johnson), lost to the 29 (Harvick), but still it wasn’t anything detrimental today.”
With only three races remaining, Johnson maintains a 14 point lead over Hamlin with Harvick 38 out. This is the closest margin between three drivers after seven events in the history of the Chase.
“We need to be as competitive and as fast as we can possibly be at this point,” Johnson said. “We're going to three tracks that are good for all three competitors. As Kevin as saying earlier, you're going to have to run in the top five to stay in the game. Then obviously take advantage of things and win if you can.
“10 extra points from first to second are going to be important,” he added. “Leading laps, leading the most laps, you're going to have to be on your A game from here on out.”
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