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By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
(October 31, 2010)
TALLADEGA, Ala.—In a win that was vindication for Clint Bowyer, all three leading Chase contenders dodged potential trouble Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup tightened dramatically.
Bowyer had nosed ahead of Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick in Turn 1 on the 188th and final lap of the Amp Energy Juice 500 when a violent wreck behind them sent AJ Allmendinger upside down into the inside wall, caused the fifth caution of the race and froze the field as it ran.
By virtue of his runner-up finish, Harvick trimmed his points deficit to Chase leader Jimmie Johnson to 38 points. On the strength of a late surge from the rear of the field, Johnson came home seventh, two positions ahead of Denny Hamlin, his closest pursuer in the championship battle.
Johnson leads Hamlin by 14 points with three races left in the Chase.
The victory—Bowyer’s first at a restrictor-plate track—was his second of the Chase, his second this season and the fourth of his career. It also eased the sting of a 150-point penalty after his win in the first Chase race at New Hampshire, when his car failed post-race inspection by 60 thousandths of an inch.
The anxious moments for Hamlin began on Lap 77 when he was shuffled to the back of the field and lost the draft. Falling behind at a rate of almost four seconds per lap, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota went a lap down when Harvick passed him through Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 105.
Hamlin didn’t recover the lost circuit until Lap 144, when he got a free pass back to the lead lap under caution for a seven-car wreck on the backstretch that damaged the front end of Harvick’s No. 29 and the rear of Johnson’s No. 48.
The damage, however wasn’t sufficient to hurt either car significantly, and throughout the remainder of the race, all three drivers worked their way toward the front.