23 October 2011
Bowyer wins 'Dega as Chase stars stumble
It started when Allmendinger got rather too much more assistance than he could cope with from Marcos Ambrose: the #43 spun, and in doing so caught up Juan Montoya, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick - and Kyle Busch, who ended up with Montoya running into the side of the #18. Busch's damage seemed initially fairly superficial, but then it emerged that the suspension had been knocked out of whack and he was withdrawn to the garage area, ultimately re-emerging to end up 13 laps off the lead and running in a miserable 33rd place by the chequered flag. His Chase hopes - already fading somewhat coming into Talladega - were well and truly over now.
"There were a lot of repairs to be done - all four corners of that car, the suspension and body were damaged," said Busch's crew chief Dave Rogers, who could at least take some comfort in how the team's repair efforts meant that they picked up half a dozen places at the end over simply having opted to park it. "That's the silver lining of the day," he said.
"I wish there was a recipe that we could tell Kyle to let him know where to be when we race in Talladega, but it's so hard to say, added Rogers, who put the crash down to Kyle simply being "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Kevin Harvick - who came into Talladega as one of the Chase front-runners - was also in serious trouble. He looked the most beaten-up of the cars involved and spent multiple visits to pit road trying to get repairs without going off the lead lap; but there was smoke in the cockpit and smoke visibly trailing from the car outside from a broken oil cooler, and still more attention and a huge amount of duct tape was required to keep it all running. The Richard Childress Racing crew worked minor miracles and the #29 did indeed make it to the end, but by then it was nine laps off the lead and in a borderline-disastrous 32nd place in the final classifications.
"I thought I was around a pretty good group of cars there. I don't know what happened. It is just one of those deals," said Harvick of the original incident. "Obviously that wasn't the day we wanted."
In the dozen green flag laps that followed the restart, three pairings - Matt Kenseth/David Ragan, Kasey Kahne/Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer/Jeff Burton. - emerged as the breakaway leaders before a blown tyre for AJ Allmendinger on lap 121 brought out the fifth caution of the day. A sixth followed shortly after the restart when Kasey Kahne spun at the start/finish line, but following that things would settle down and there would be 30 laps of green flag racing, with Tony Stewart getting most of his laps led during this period as that scratch pairing with Logano really came good and paid dividends.
It was coming up on green flag pit stops with 25 laps of the race remaining when Andy Lally turned down into Jimmie Johnson. Lally spun as did Terry Labonte, while the #48 was left with only light damage that was checked over by the team during the ensuing round of pit stops under the caution.
At the restart, remarkably it was Dave Blaney in the lead for one lap thanks to a good pairing he'd got going with Brad Keselowski - Keselowski's Penske team mate Kurt Busch having opted to take up with Regan Smith early in the afternoon. But Trevor Bayne's long-term relationship with Robby Gordon looked to be at an end after Gordon's rear accumulated too much rear-end damage to continue to push effectively, and he would then suffer a lengthy pit stop with rear gear issues that finally put him out of the running. Bayne instead enjoyed a brief dalliance with Marcos Ambrose, but with most drivers still largely playing with their team mates there were few realistic options for the Wood Brothers' #21 single entry.
Inside the final 20, things were finally getting serious in a race that had previously largely been a game of chess strategy and inter-driver diplomacy. Tony Stewart was back in the lead now with support from Paul Menard who had lost Harvick as his earlier drafting partner; they were looking increasingly good for the win, when the eighth caution came out for a spin by Bobby Labonte - who was then collected in a hard hit by Kurt Busch. Both cars were clearly out, Busch's #22 managing to limp back to the garage while Labonte himself was only able to limp to the waiting ambulance.
"Our championship hopes are done, just because of this two-car Talladega draft," fumed a frustrated Busch.
The players at the restart on lap 178 with ten to go consisted of Tony Stewart, Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan. Burton got the best push at the restart from Bowyer and took the lead, and was still in front when the track went yellow for a ninth and final time on lap 181.
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