NASCAR hometown favorite Clint Bowyer, who likes racing at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway - and why not? He's come away victorious in two of his last two race starts at one of stock-car racing's most heralded venues - had a horrible start there Sunday in the Sprint Cup Aaron's 499 but a much better finish.
Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., started 24th on Sunday, and it actually got worse from there as the No. 15 Alabama National Championship car experienced mechanical problems in the early going. Bowyer has won at Talladega the last two years in the fall race held as part of the Chase for the Cup, and he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in this same event a year ago, all while driving the No. 33 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress Racing.
In his first season driving for Michael Waltrip's team, Bowyer battled all the way back Sunday in the No. 15 Toyota, which for this race was decked out in a red and white color paint scheme honoring the BCS college football champions from last season, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just past the midway point of the scheduled 188-lap race over the 2.66-mile Talladega layout, Bowyer had moved all the way up to second place. And for a very brief time on lap 165, the No. 15 car held the lead before being swallowed up in a draft in which Brad Keselowski, the eventual race winner, pushed Matt Kenseth into the lead.
Bowyer had fallen all the way back to 15th, but immediately after the restart on lap184 following the fourth caution of the afternoon, nine cars were involved in a pileup, including the cars of pole-sitter Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano and Robert Richardson Jr.
Gordon, Harvick, Logano, and Richardson were knocked out of the race. Bowyer was a huge beneficiary of this mishap, which allowed him to move back up into the top 10 and finish sixth.
Because of the multicar wreck on lap 185, the Aaron's 499 was forced into overtime and a green-white-checkered finish, the seventh time a race at Talladega has ended that way, the most of any NASCAR track except Daytona (the other restrictor-plate track), which has had nine.
Kenseth's No. 17 Ford was in the lead and had the fastest car when the race went green for the two-lap sprint to the finish. That was good and bad news for the Roush-Fenway driver. The good news was that the No. 17 was fast, which was also the bad news. Teammate Greg Biffle couldn't keep pace with Kenseth to get in proper drafting position. Meanwhile, Kenseth, racing alone, couldn't hold off the bumper-to-bumper pair of Keselowski being pushed by Kyle Busch.
Generally, it's better to be the No. 2 car when running that kind of race finish at a superspeedway like Talladega. Most often, the leader at the beginning of the last lap, especially in a tight race, which most Talladega races are, isn't the car to cross the finish line first. On Sunday, however, Keselowski elected to go high into Turn 3 on the 194th and final lap and then, breaking the tandem with Busch as he entered Turn 4, Keselowski pulled down low on the track, surprising the younger Busch brother, and brought it home unfettered from there.
It was Keselowski's second Sprint Cup win of the season (he also won the Food City 500 at Bristol in March), making him the third double winner of the year, joining Stewart and Hamlin. Second place went to Busch, Kenseth was third, Kasey Kahne fourth and Biffle finished fifth, one spot better than Bowyer.
Bowyer, who will turn 33 at the end of this month, was very pleased with his comeback and pointed out afterwards that his car was having problems on the final lap. "The Aaron's/Alabama National Championship Ford was blowing water before I even got to the line," Bowyer said. "All in all, it was a good points day for us.
"It's unbelievable how the storm brews all day long (referring to the action buildup on the track) until the last few laps (at Talladega). You just go like hell and hope for the best," he said.
Nineteen cars failed to finish on Sunday at Talladega. That's the most at any track this season. Eleven cars were knocked out of the season-opening Daytona 500.
One of the cars that didn't make it to the end at Talladega was driven by Kansas City's other hometown favorite, Carl Edwards. Contact between Aric Almirola and Dave Blaney on lap 141 set off a crash that involved the cars of Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Montoya.
The DNF knocked Edwards and the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford out of the top 10 in the drivers' points. He went from ninth to 11th and is 78 points back of the leader Biffle. Bowyer's fifth top-10 finish of the 2012 season moved him into the 10th spot from 12th.
Next weekend, it's on to Darlington, S.C. and the venerable 61-year-old racetrack nicknamed "The Track to Tough to Tame." It will be the Sprint Cup Bojangles' 500 at legendary Darlington Raceway.
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