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A bad day at Talladega for most NASCAR championship contenders, and Clint Bowyer edges teammate Jeff Burton to win Sunday's 500

   A rough Talladega race. Here AJ Allmendinger gets sideways and airborne, triggering a big crash (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern



   Jimmie Johnson's title hopes took a big hit here Sunday, and most other championship contenders likewise had less than great performances, for some probably title-ending.
   But non-chaser Clint Bowyer, a loyal 'pusher' teammate for non-chaser Jeff Burton most of the day, again timed it just perfectly in the final mile, making an inside move on Burton for the lead on the trioval in a green-white-checker finish and won Sunday's Talladega 500 – his first victory of the season and his first win since right here one year ago.

   Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick took big hits in the championship playoffs Sunday, on a wild, confusing, even a rather bizarre afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway, and most other Sprint Cup title contenders were no-shows in Round Six of the chase.
   But the men taking the hardest hits were Bobby Labonte and Regan Smith, in separate, very hard crashes. Both were relatively uninjured.
   Bowyer made his move a little early, "and it about bit me in the butt," he conceded. "I know Jeff was expecting me to wait to make a move in the trioval, So I went early, because I felt that would catch him off-guard and it did."
   "I'm heartbroken we didn't win," Burton said. It's been three years since his last tour win win.
   "But I don't know what I would have done different.
   "Honestly I thought he made his move a little too early, and I gave him the bottom, because usually you can pull them back to you when you do that. But he had a little more speed in his car and some good momentum.
   "I want to see the replay and see what I could have done differently.
   "I was talking to him on the radio on the yellow and said 'I'll bet your thinking what you're going to do, aren't you.' And I knew he was going to make a move. That's what he's supposed to do. I was thinking about asking him to give an old man a break, but I knew better than that."

   Clint Bowyer edges teammate Jeff Burton at the line, for car owner Richard Childress' 100th NASCAR Cup tour victory. Ironically Bowyer is leaving at the end of the season and moving to another team, and  his Childress team isn't expected to run much next season, because of lack of sponsorship  (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Carl Edwards was never a factor and never ran up front. But somehow he managed not only to hold on to the points lead but even gained big on some of his toughest rivals.
   "This race is insane," Edwards said after finishing 11th. "We thought we'd do our best by staying out of the wrecks.
   "The way things were going we should have had two or three green-white-checkereds. So it went well for us. I never thought I'd be this happy with an 11th."
   Most of the race Edwards ran back around 30th.
   Brad Keselowski was the top-finishing title contender, finishing fourth. Tony Stewart led much of the race and finished seventh. The other title contenders: Denny Hamlin rallied for eighth, Matt Kenseth had a shot at the win near the end but finished 18th.  Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led a few laps, for the first time in months, finished 25th, Jimmie Johnson finished 26th, Jeff Gordon finished 27th . Kevin Harvick got  caught up in a crash and finished 32nd, and needed several laps for repairs. Kyle Busch was also caught up in a wreck, needed repairs too, and finished 33rd. Kurt Busch got caught up in a crash and finished 36th. And Ryan Newman was caught up in a crash and finished 38th.
   So going to Martinsville Speedway this week, Edwards leaves here 14 points ahead of teammate Kenseth, 18 ahead of Keselowski, 19 ahead of Stewart,  26 ahead of Harvick, 40 ahead of Kyle Busch, 50 ahead of Johnson, 52 ahead of Kurt Busch, 74 ahead of Earnhardt, and 82 ahead of Gordon.

Regan Smith (78) is heading into the outside wall hard in one of Sunday's big crashes (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Harvick's crash midway through the race left him with a banged up car and broken oil pump. But he was up front charging for the lead much of the first half of the 3-1/2-hour event.
   That accident may have doomed Harvick's title hopes. But Childress insisted "Don't stick a fork in us. We're going to keep fighting.
   "Yes, that may cost us the championship, but I want my drivers up there up front, not hanging around the back."
   In fact at one point Childress' four teams were running 1-2-3-4.
   One of what could be several controversies coming out of this race involved Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon. Late in the race Bayne and Gordon had made a deal to work together. However Bayne drives Fords and Gordon drives Chevrolets, and Ford officials had a policy here of telling their drivers not to help any Detroit rivals, and Bayne indicated he was told not to help Gordon. When he dropped Gordon, Gordon was not happy. Gordon finished 27th; Bayne finished 15th.
    The controversy could be Bayne angry reaction to being told he could not draft with Gordon.
    Bayne, in his Twitter account afterwards, said "I'm not happy about what this has become... It's too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around us.
   "I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell Jeff Gordon I would work with him and then be strong armed into bailing.
   "I'm so sick about all this. I won't race restrictor plate races next year before I'm put in that situation."


     And this is how Kyle Busch's championship dreams ended Sunday at Talladega, with a hard hit by Juan Pablo Montoya (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The incident that may well have cost Harvick a shot at this championship came when Marcos Ambrose tapped teammate AJ Allmendinger sideways in the trioval. Allmendinger got airborne for a moment, and sideways, and in the melee Harvick got collected.
    The incident that may well have cost Kyle Busch a shot at this championship began when he and teammate Joey Lagano tagged each other while trying to pit routinely early on. NASCAR then penalized Busch for failing to reduce speed on his own stop, and that put him at the tail end of the field for a restart….and he wound up in the middle of the Ambrose-Allmendinger crash. Busch spend considerable time in the garage for repairs.
    Stewart himself triggered the crash that took out teammate Ryan Newman, in a three-wide on the trioval. That could have been costly for Stewart in the title chase, but he managed to recover and had a shot to win late.
   Just after the restart with 10 laps to go, Mark Martin triggered a fourth turn crash that wound up sending Regan Smith nose-first and hard into the outside wall, in a hit too reminiscent of the savage crash Jimmie Johnson took just a week ago at Charlotte – a shot that might well have killed him 10 years ago, before NASCAR's safety surge. Smith too managed to get out of his car, woozy but okay, thanks to the soft-walls – which here required some repairs after the hit.
   NASCAR, oddly, didn't redflag the race for those repairs, and there were only two laps left when the final green came out. Burton, with Bowyer tucked in tight behind him, sprinted quickly away from the pack to make it a two-man race to the finish line.

  And this is how brother Kurt Busch's title hopes ended too.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

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