Clint Bowyer found himself in an odd position at the end of Sunday’s Amp Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, and he’s also in an odd position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Although Bowyer has won two of the first seven races in the Chase, he’s in 12th position in points – last among the Chasers – entering next week’s run at Texas Motor Speedway. That’s because Bowyer’s winning car at New Hampshire International Speedway in the Chase’s first race was found to be illegal by NASCAR, and he was hit with a 150-point penalty.
On Sunday, Bowyer was dueling teammate Kevin Harvick for the win near the end of the race, a barnburner that saw 87 lead changes – one short of the Sprint Cup series record, set here in the spring. Bowyer was drafting with assistance from Juan Pablo Montoya, and Harvick was rolling along in a draft with David Reutimann.
As they crossed the start-finish line to begin the final lap virtually even, a major accident unfolded behind them. Contact sent AJ Allmendinger sliding out of a tight pack of traffic and onto his roof before he flipped into the inside wall.
That incident forced NASCAR officials to throw the caution flag, freezing the field as the leaders charged through the first turn. Officials needed several minutes to review videotape of the leaders’ positioning on the track at that moment before declaring Bowyer the winner. He led Harvick by a few feet at that point.
By that time, Bowyer had already celebrated with a frontstretch burnout. “Hell, yeah, claim that baby before somebody else does,” Bowyer said later.
The win was Bowyer’s first since the New Hampshire controversy, which led to team owner Richard Childress appealing the penalty – and losing. Without the penalty, Bowyer would be in fifth place in points.
Bowyer was frustrated by the penalty and promised that he and his team would bounce back.
“It is redemption,” he said of Sunday’s win. “It finally puts that behind me as a race car driver, as a person and as a race team.
“I’m still frustrated. It took the wind out of my sails. The two races after that, it was a disaster. It’s pretty uncharacteristic of our team to have two wins in the Chase and three really bad races.”
Interim crew chief Scott Miller, filling in for Shane Wilson, who was suspended because of the New Hampshire violation, said Bowyer “did a fantastic job of putting himself in position to win. We tested the waters all day long to see what would work and what wouldn’t work.
“The key to everything today was having a fast race car and him putting himself in the right position to be able to win a race.”
Childress said visiting victory lane Sunday “brought back memories of 10 years ago when Dale Earnhardt won the race.” That win was the last of Earnhardt’s career.
Like everyone else in the facility, Childress waited anxiously to be told which driver had won, although it was somewhat easier for him because he signs paychecks for both.
“My grandson Austin said, ‘Come on, we know we won it. Let’s go to the winner’s circle,’ ” Childress said. “I was kind of wondering which one won and if it was for real. I’m just happy for both of them.”
He said he remains optimistic about Harvick’s chances of winning RCR’s first championship since 1994. “We’re going to throw everything at it,” Childress said.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.