Talladega Superspeedway is known for wild races and even wilder finishes, and Sunday was no different.
As the Richard Childress Racing teammates battled side-by-side for the race lead on the final lap, the Big One started behind them at the start-finish line. The wreck culminated with AJ Allmendinger flipping on his roof and hitting the inside wall as others crashed behind him.
With Bowyer being pushed by Juan Pablo Montoya on the bottom and Harvick on the top with a push from David Reutimann, they rounded the first turn as NASCAR threw the caution, thus ending the race and freezing the field.
Taking nearly three minutes to make the correct decision, both Bowyer and Harvick drove to the start-finish line with Bowyer celebrating with donuts. The two pit crews walked down pit road to congratulate each other, shaking hands and exchanging high-fives.
“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.”
“I mean, there’s no reason to worry about the things you can’t control,” Harvick said. “You go up and you wait. They make the call. Doesn’t stress me out at all. Just part of it. You just go along with the flow. You take the points as you can get them.”
Even up to half an hour after the race, NASCAR was still altering the final results of the race, particularly where Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin finished. Listed on the scoring pylon as Hamlin in seventh and Johnson in eight, after reviewing the replay, NASCAR moved Johnson to seventh, Jeff Gordon to eighth and Hamlin in ninth.
The move altered the Chase standings, giving Johnson a 14-point margin over Hamlin and 38 points over Harvick.
“We need maximum points,” Johnson said. “Of course, it’s a little bit more forgiving or easy on your team and yourself with a big points lead. But we don’t have that this year. We’re going to have to race, and we’re ready for it.”
For Hamlin, to come home ninth should be a relief after losing a lap to the leaders early in the going. Running at the rear of the pack to avoid trouble, Hamlin eventually lost the draft on lap 77 and continued to fall back with no drafting help. Losing nearly three seconds a lap to the field, the pack eventually caught the No. 11 to put him a lap down on Lap 98.
“I was a little disappointed. I knew we could get it back,” Hamlin said. “I was hoping we were going to stay out and get the pass around, but Mike (Ford, crew chief) wanted to make the safe call and get the lucky dog.”
Trying to put himself in position to get the free pass, Hamlin finally got back on the lead lap when Bowyer got into the back of Marcos Ambrose on lap 142, sending him down the track and across Harvick’s nose.
“He just kind of rolled across the nose,” Harvick said of Ambrose. “I was able to just kind of not keep hitting him. I was able to just kind of go back on the gas and push him off of me. That was the best way I knew at that point to minimize the damage on the nose.”
The contact damaged Harvick’s nose, but once on pit road, the team was able to place bear bond on the nose and send the No. 29 back on the track on the lead lap. Despite the damage, Harvick was not only able to keep up with the pack, he nearly won the race.
Sunday’s race was relatively calm until the closing laps and it saw 87 lead changes among 26 different drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps in the race, but was involved in a wreck on lap 135 when he got into the back of Jeff Burton. The wreck also collected front-runner Jamie McMurray.
With only three races to go before the championship is decided in Homestead, the Chase is now closer after seven races than ever before. The three championship contenders emerged from the ‘wild card’ race of the Chase intact and now have three more weeks to do what it takes to bring the championship trophy back to the shop.