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Bowyer clinches narrow win over Harvick

Unsurprisingly no one from the leaders pitted - Kasey Kahne back in 25th place was the highest-placed car to take to pit road - so at the restart it was Bowyer leading Johnson, Montoya, Hornish Jr and Kenseth with just four laps left to run. Now was the critical moment for having a good drafting partner: Bowyer had Montoya, Harvick has Reutimann come to his aid, but in the middle lane Johnson suddenly felt the absence of Gordon and he and Hornish fell backwards at a fast rate of notes, suddenly out of contention and crowded out of the four-wide battle up front.

It was going to be between Bowyer and Harvick, as the two of them and their respective drafting partners pulled out a huge lead over the rest of the field. As the white flag came out it was Harvick just putting his damaged nose ahead; and then suddenly, the race was over, the caution was out: a major wreck behind the leaders (although not quite the proverbial "big one") had sent cars shooting off in all directions.

Replays showed that Jimmie Johnson himself had been the trigger for it, still struggling in the middle of the pack and lacking a drafting partner. He had wobbled just enough to require him to lift up a fraction, and that sparked the problem behind him as the following cars reacted, setting off a series of small bumps that had big consequences. The worst affected was undoubtedly AJ Allmendinger, who was turned sideways and then flipped over entirely so that the car skidded across that wide concrete run-off apron upside down; then it made a heavy impact with the inside wall, rebounded, went up on its front end for a couple of dainty pirouettes before finally slamming back down to earth. Fortunately AJ was in good shape - more than could be said about what remained of his car - but with the #43 and several other cars all over the race track a yellow flag had been the knee-jerk and entirely correct call.

So who had won? It all came down to whether Harvick or Bowyer had been in front at the moment the yellow came out. That meant pouring over the video tapes and the scoring loops to work out exactly when the track went yellow, and who was in front when it did: as the minutes ticked by, it was clear that Bowyer felt that there was no question and that the win was his - "Hell yeah! Claim that one before somebody else does!" he joked; Harvick was more subdued and had a tense wait on pit road for word to come down.

And when it did, Bowyer's confidence was proved well-founded: he'd just been ahead, by a foot at most, but that was all that was needed. Bowyer finally had some measure of recompense for having his New Hampshire victory marred by the post-race penalty for technical infringement. It might be far too late to put him back into contention for the 2010 Sprint Cup, but it was as sweet as he could possibly have hoped for.

Meanwhile Harvick's second place, combined with steady but not exactly stellar seventh and ninths place finishes for his Chase rivals Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin respectively, means that he closes up on them in the Sprint Cup standings, reducing his deficit to Johnson from 62pts to 38pts. Johnson can at least take comfort that he marginally pulls away from second-placed Hamlin, his overall lead up to 14pts, but there's no question that the Sprint Cup battle remains the closest in Chase history as they head into the final three races of the year.





Related Pictures

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Clint Bowyer at Daytona [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory with a wave of the chequered flag Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Superman Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Superman Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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