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Bowyer wins 'Dega as Chase stars stumble

The unique nature of Talladega's superspeedway once again had a decisive effect on the outcome of this year's Chase, but Clint Bowyer was just ecstatic with the view from victory lane.
The tough nature of superspeedway racing - and in particular the roulette nature of two-car drafting that once again dominated this weekend at Talladega in the Good Sam Club 500 - meant that Clint Bowyer got very lucky indeed and headed for victory lane, while several big-name Chase drivers no longer remain in any realistic contention for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship after only three of them finished in the top ten.

Clint Bowyer started from third position on the grid, and soon hooked up in a pre-arranged move with his Richard Childress Racing team mate Jeff Burton for a race-long two-car-draft arrangement that saw Burton hit the lead for the first time briefly on lap 4, although Bowyer had to wait until lap 30 before he had a taste of the lead for himself.

Driver fortunes waxed and waned throughout the afternoon, with cars being propelled to the front by their drafting partners only to plummet backwards once the momentum had gone or the two cars had needed to break apart and swap over to prevent the pushing car from overheating from lack of front air intake. At other times, team tactics dictated a strategic retreat to the back of the pack to stay out of trouble.

That's why there were a massive 72 lead changes during the 188 laps of the 2.66 tri-oval on Sunday afternoon (and that remarkable statistic is still well off the circuit record), between 26 of the 43 drivers out on track. Clint Bowyer led 25 of those laps and Burton led 26, making them the most consistent and successful pairing of the race; Tony Stewart led the most laps of all with 30 in front, although he wouldn't hit the lead for the first time until a comparatively tardy lap 63.

Stewart's drafting partner at the start was his team mate Ryan Newman; Matt Kenseth paired up with David Ragan; Mark Martin with Jeff Gordon; Red Bull duo Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers and Earnhardt-Ganassi's Jamie McMurray and Juan Montoya also took up drafting together. Kevin Harvick was running with Paul Menard and Travis Kvapil had considerable early success working with David Gilliland, while Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne had taken up with Robby Gordon. Other pairings included Casey Mears and Landon Cassill, Carl Edwards with Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch with Regan Smith, and AJ Allmendinger hooking up with Richard Petty Motorsports team mate Marcos Ambrose.

Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano paired up from lowly qualifying positions back in the thirties and powered their way into the top ten during the first 20 laps, but their third team mate Denny Hamlin was left without a dance partner at all in the opening stint and paid the price, losing touch with the pack altogether which seriously compromised his pace and led to him being lapped by the leaders before the first caution of the day on lap 25, for debris - which at least meant that he promptly got the free pass and was back on the lead lap again.

The trouble with these carefully arranged pairings is that they often don't survive the heat of battle, and so it was true for JGR. On lap 67, Busch and Logano got separated as they fumbled over Trevor Bayne entering pit road early in a round of green flag pit stops. Logano got spun, and while he initially kept it together and carried on, his tyre promptly blew out sparking the second caution of the afternoon. Worse, it had caused damage to the front of the #20 and compromised his ability to effectively push his team mate in the draft. Not that Busch was having a great time of it either, as he got a penalty for speeding on pit road and sent to the back for the restart.

Another pairing also fell apart on lap 80: Newman and Stewart were trying to get past David Reutimann on the lowside when the #39 car got unsettled. The draft broke up and Stewart couldn't avoid rear-ending his team mate when Newman hit the brakes in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the spin onto the infield that left him with major front splitter damage. That pretty much ended his prospects as a drafting partner for the rest of the race, and - combined with the damage itself - Newman would end up finishing in 28th place 16 laps off the lead.

Necessity makes for odd bedfellows, and after the restart Stewart was left with few alternatives other than to take up with Joey Logano, himself now partner-less in Stewart's old #20 Home Depot car. Despite the damage on Logano's car, the pairing immediately proved remarkable effective in their mutual hour of need. Logano's former dance partner Kyle Busch had taken up with the formerly friendless Denny Hamlin, the two making it work all the way to the front on lap 90 despite being hampered by radio communications difficulties that made strategising difficult. But it would prove no matter, for their partnership was about to get hit by the fourth caution of the afternoon on lap 104.




Related Pictures

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Earnhardt-Gannasi Racing teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray battle Red Bull Racing teammates Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers during the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. [Photo credit: NASCAR Media]
Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch are among six cars involved in a Lap 104 accident. [Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Regan Smith crashes into the wall triggering a five-car accident involving Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya on Lap 181. [Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Joey Logano leads a pack early during the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. [Photo Credit: NASCAR Media]
Mark Martin leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to the green flag to start the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. [Photo credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Clint Bowyer celebrates winning the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, his second straight fall win at the track. [Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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