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Looks like this is Carl Edwards' championship....

   Trevor Bayne, Ford's newest star, and the Daytona 500 winner, chafes at Ford Orders at Talladega: He apologizes to Jeff Gordon for 'dumping' him in drafting late in the Talladega 500 and rips Ford officials for telling him not to help Gordon: "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." (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   The NASCAR championship race all but ended here Sunday for most of Carl Edward's title challengers….and it didn't end very pretty.
   Put a fork in Kyle Busch.
   Put a fork in Jimmie Johnson.
   Put a fork in Kurt Busch.
   And get that fork ready for Kevin Harvick.

   Edwards played rope-a-dope most of the race, hanging near the back of the pack, and then managed to make it up to 11th in the final sprint.
   With that, and bad luck for many rivals, Edwards padded his Sprint Cup points lead to a pretty comfortable edge with just four races to go in the 10-race chase.
   With Homestead, Phoenix and Texas certainly great tracks traditionally for Edwards and the Jack Roush Ford guys, if Edwards can get through next Sunday's Martinsville 500 without major issue, he could be all but home free.

   Johnson came in here reeling and needing to make something happen to get back in the thick of the title fight.
   But he didn't.
   In fact Johnson was a victim of his own strategy to stick it out in the back of the pack and hope there was safety there. He was never a factor in the race and struggled home 26th…at a track where he won in April.
     Johnson said his car was overheating late in the race, because of trash on the grill. "The pack was organized, and with the green-white-checkered, there's not a lot of time to get organized, and we lost our momentum, stalled out, and finished far worse than we had hoped to.
    "I had hoped to make up some points on Carl, but that didn't happen.
    "If it isn't the championship, I want to finish as high as I can possibly finish."


Clint Bowyer: Winner! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   With Johnson and his Rick Hendrick teammates all qualifying extremely well and drafting quite fast in practice, the Sunday problems were simply due to bad strategy.  

   Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson's drafting partner, led a few laps and raised a big cheer in the crowd, but described the race overall as a bit strange.
   "We raced a little bit…but not a whole lot whenever we thought they were getting a little bit crazy," Earnhardt said. "We'd move into the 'safe areas' and we rode there most of the day…with a lot of other people doing the same thing.
    "Bored. I'd rather race up in there and try to lead laps and do whatever. But this isn't really my style of racing -- being pushed and carrying on all day long.
    "Trying to lead a couple of laps that are sort of meaningless really doesn't make a lot of sense either."

   Indeed, most of the race had little rhyme or reason. It was another day of two-car drafting, despite NASCAR rules tweaks to make that stuff harder.
   Drivers say they generally like the two-car stuff better than the big pack racing.
   However NASCAR apparently has had an earful from irate fans who don't like the seemingly aimless type of racing.
   NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell conceded there was some hot reaction to the latest two-car drafting 500: "Know we have work to do on Superspeedway and we'll certainly stay after it."

    Jeff Gordon: Not pleased with Ford's political games. And Trevor Bayne came over after the race to apologize (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Safety has been on everyone's mind lately, with the death of Indy star Dan Wheldon, whose memorial service was being held at Indianapolis the same time this race was going on.
   And in the pre-race drivers' meeting Edwards had asked NASCAR officials to clarify the rules about what to expect on the last lap, if there were a crash. There wasn't much of an answer, however.
   "I feel the biggest risk we have here is when we have a wreck people come to this conclusion that they are going to stand on the throttle and drive through the wreck…" Edwards explained later.
   "I feel that is the biggest risk – with an accident where a guy is upside down or stopped, and us as competitors don't really know what point we are racing to.
    "If we see something like that, I think a lot of folks are reluctant right now in the sport to lift. They think it is cool to stay on the throttle.
    "You can't ask competitors to quit driving and not give everything they can. But I hope NASCAR will clarify that stuff a little more in the future so we don’t have a problem because of this."

   Safety aspects of this two-car drafting, however, could be another issue to be debated, certainly by some of Sunday's victims.
   Kurt Busch, who ran well with Regan Smith most of the day, got clobbered in the end, when Michael Waltrip tagged drafting partner Bobby Labonte and triggered a bad crash. "Our championship hopes are done just because of this two-car Talladega draft," Busch fumed.
   Regan Smith, who hit here even harder than Jimmie Johnson hit at Charlotte a week ago, said "That was not a fun hit. But it is what we do at the restrictor plate tracks…and unfortunately got caught up in other people's messes.
    "I don't know what happened; I just know I turned right in a hurry."


    The Talladega trioval is a bit more tricky than it might first appear (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One of the most disappointed men was Kevin Harvick, who was tight in the title race when the day began, but whose title hopes were seriously hit.
   "Obviously that wasn't the day we wanted…but the way the rest of those guys raced, it didn't devastate us," Harvick said in some relief. For a long time he appeared doomed.
    "We wanted to be in the front. We thought that was the safer place. I don't know what happened.
    "It is a little bit frustrating. You do what you think is right at this particular race track, and you hope for the best.
    "But we had a lot of great runs in the weeks leading up to this, and I guess the odds were against us coming into this one."

   For much of the last part of the race it appeared Matt Kenseth would be a big points gainer. Kenseth and teammate David Ragan worked well together upfront most of the afternoon. But then Ragan's engine failed near the end, leaving Kenseth high and dry: "It was a frustrating that we ran up there most the day.
    "David was a great drafting partner, but he broke something on the last restart. I had to try to find somebody with two laps to go, and that is hard.
    "It was disappointing to run in the front all day and finish where we finished.
    "But we made it through, so I guess the damage could have been worse."
    Kenseth and Ragan ran top four, top six, and top eight with ease most of the day.


    Now that's what you call a tight draft. Jimmie Johnson pushing teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Kyle Busch left without comment, leaving crew chief Dave Rogers to fill in the blanks, such as they were.
    "Marcos Ambrose got a little impatient coming to the trioval trying to push his teammate…which is the name of the game around here. But he jacked AJ up pretty good, got his rear wheels off the ground and turned across our nose. 
    "I wish there was a recipe that we could tell Kyle to let him know where to be when we race in Talladega.
    Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson rode around the back and finished; we were up towards the front and got wrecked out. 
    "The mindset doesn't change.  We sat down in December and said 'We're going to race every lap every race as hard as we can, and try to lead as many laps and win as many races as we can.'  That's what it takes to win this championship. 
    "Everyone asks that question 'How is the mindset?  How is the mindset?'  I'm a racer.  I want to go to Martinsville and sit on the pole, lead every lap and win.
   "We're going to try to lead every lap and win every race from here on out, and wherever that puts us in the points at the end of the year, we'll take it."
   One of the many political twists of the day involved Denny Hamlin, who had a pre-race deal to work with Ryan Newman. But Newman dumped him right at the start. Hamlin was soon a lap down, though he made a remarkable recovery.
   "The best I can describe it is we were stuck without a date to the prom, so I was just hitting on everyone's mom," Hamlin quipped.

   And then there's the Jeff Gordon-Trevor Bayne controversy in the final miles, when Ford officials apparently ordered Bayne not to draft with Gordon, right after Bayne had radioed Gordon that he would indeed help push him to the finish.
   Bayne after the race went over to Gordon to apologize for leaving him high-and-dry but said he was ordered to do that.
   Gordon was upset: "We worked together pretty well in February, him pushing me and me pushing him.
   "But I think everybody knew coming into the weekend the Fords made it very clear about what they were doing. So I didn't expect him to commit to me on the radio. I expected him to say 'Man, I'm sorry. I can't.'
    "When he said 'Yeah, I'm pushing you, we're good,' I believed him. But I think they had a different plan.
    "Trevor came over to me and said 'Hey, it wasn't me, it wasn't me. That's what I'm being told to do.'
    "It could have been handled better. If somebody is going to screw you, you'd like them to say it to your face, you know?
    "Politics play out sometimes. He feels terrible about it."

    Ford's Edwards was left to try to explain that bit of Ford-Chevrolet intrigue:
   "I don't know what happened with Trevor and Jeff.
    "Trevor is a stand-up guy, and I am sure he did whatever he thought was best.
     "It's not like we (Ford teams) got together and planned to do anything. At least I wasn't a part of any plan to make things hard on anyone else.
     "That was not the idea. The plan was that we should stick together as Roush Fenway and as the Ford group and try to help one another as best we can."

   Two by two. Tandem drafting at Talladega. Teammates: Jamie McMurray-JuanPablo Montoya (1-42), Kyle Busch-Denny Hamlin (18-11), and AJ Allmendinger-Marcos Ambrose (43-9). (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Ford Politics

Seems to me that when Ford/Roush told the Ford drivers that they were not to help anyone but other Ford drivers, they took away any chance that Trevor Bayne had a winning the race. Bayne and Gordan were nose to tale on the last restart and in the top 10. If the ran the way they ran in the Daytona 500, it's easy to believe that Trevor had a great shot at winning... but instead, Ford pulled the rug out from under him. Or, maybe it was payback for Gordan jumping of the Ford ship and going to Chevrolet way back when! Just tooooo much BS and politics anymore. No wonder there are empty seats every week!

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