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Clint Bowyer wins Sprint Cup race at Talladega; title chase scrambled

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Teamwork meant very little in the closing laps at Talladega Superspeedway.

Unless, of course, you were driving a Ford.

Clint Bowyer bailed on teammate Jeff Burton on the last lap of Sunday's race, pulling around him when the checkered flag was in sight to pick up his first win of the season and the 100th in Sprint Cup for Richard Childress Racing.

"You hate that it comes down to that; it is what it is," shrugged Bowyer. "You owe it to your team, to your sponsors to go out and win the race. Unfortunately, it came down to that situation."

Burton and the RCR bunch, driving Chevrolets, understood that's how the game is played.

The grumbling was far behind the leaders, where Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne ditched Jeff Gordon because Bayne was part of a pact made by Ford drivers to only push fellow Ford drivers in an effort to help Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth in the Chase for the Championship.

That title race became heavily scrambled at NASCAR's fastest and longest track. Brad Keselowski finished fourth for the best finish by a Chase driver and thanked journeyman Dave Blaney, who was third to tie his best finish in 393 career Cup starts, for working with him.

Keselowski, now third in points, and Edwards, who finished 11th and leaves Alabama with a 14-point lead, were the biggest winners in the Chase. Kenseth rose to second in the standings after finishing 18th but could have been closer; he led seven times for 21 laps.

Gordon was seventh on the last restart and thought Bayne would push him on the last two laps in a two-car tandem, which is the fastest way to race at Talladega nowadays.

But Bayne backed off and Gordon, with no help, fell to 27th.

"I'm not happy about what this has become," Bayne posted on Twitter in reference to Talladega's two-car drafting style and the reliance on partners.

"It's too premeditated. … I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell (Gordon) I would work with him and then be strong-armed into bailing."

Gordon said he was deceived.

"The Fords made it very clear about what they were doing in working with one another," Gordon said. "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.' And when he said, 'Yeah, I'm pushing you, we're good,' I believed him. I think they had a different plan."

The race finished roughly 30 minutes after the memorial service for two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon ended in Indianapolis. The St. Petersburg resident was killed in the IndyCar season finale a week ago at Las Vegas, and NASCAR honored him with decals on all the cars and a moment of silence before the start of the race.

The Wheldon death made for some poignant prerace moments, as Kevin Harvick clung tightly to wife, Delana, and many drivers gave long embraces to loved ones.

As expected, the race heated up in the closing laps.

The race was not marred by "the big one" but there were several wrecks — the last, with eight laps left, was a hard hit by Regan Smith that required repairs to the SAFER barrier. He was okay.

Several drivers saw their title bids badly damaged along with their cars. Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch were in accidents. Five-time defending series champion Johnson saved his car after nearly getting spun out but he finished 26th as he and partner Earnhardt never made their charge to the front.

Clint Bowyer wins Sprint Cup race at Talladega; title chase scrambled 10/23/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2011 11:44pm]
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