Clint Bowyer felt badly for teammate Jeff Burton.
But not too badly.
Bowyer pushed Burton to the lead Sunday on a restart with just two laps left in the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and the two Richard Childress Racing drivers left the rest of the field in their wake.
Coming through the tri-oval with the checkered flag in sight Bowyer pulled out, dropped low and passed Burton at the stripe to win by 0.018 seconds.
“He worked so well with me all day long,” Bowyer said. “You hate that it comes down to that.”
Part of the reason he felt badly was that Burton has not won a race in three years.
“He’s been a great teammate. Learned a lot from him,” Bowyer said. “He’s already won a lot of races. I think he’s won like 20 some races. I’ve only won five.”
Two of those five wins have come at Talladega. Bowyer won the October 2010 race and nearly won last April’s race, finishing second to Jimmie Johnson by a mere 0.002 seconds, which tied the NASCAR record for closest finish.
The win was also the 100th career victory for team owner Richard Childress, who broke into NASCAR as a driver during the first Talladega race in 1969, getting an opportunity to drive because many drivers boycotted that race.
It was bittersweet that Childress’s 100th came from Bowyer, who is leaving the team at the end of the season to join Michael Waltrip Racing because sponsorship for his Childress team dried up.
“Meant a lot to me to be able to win before we end this deal,” Bowyer said.
Burton, who has had just one other top 10 finish all year, said he didn’t know “whether to be excited or upset. After the year we’ve had, it’s good to be in a position to win a race.”
“I don’t know what I would have done different,” he said. “These races, it’s really hard to hold that guy off when he’s coming. We’ve seen that every time.”
Burton said he came on the radio on the last lap and told Bowyer, “‘I bet you’re thinking about what you’re going to do right now.’ I was going to ask him to give an old man a break, but I knew better than that.”
“I was chuckling,” Bowyer said of Burton’s last-lap radio message. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
The race results left Carl Edwards in the lead in the points standings and dealt setbacks to several Chase drivers.
Kevin Harvick fell from second to fifth after his 32nd place finish. Harvick was caught up in a wreck on Lap 103 when Marcos Ambrose turned his tandem partner, AJ Allmendinger. That wreck also collected Kyle Busch and sent him to the garage and an eventual 33rd-place finish.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Harvick, who has never had a DNF at Talladega. “It is just one of those deals.”
The race also didn’t do the defending five-time champion any good in his quest for a sixth straight title. Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were tandem partners for the entire race. But they and their Hendrick teammates, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, followed a strategy of hanging out on the back end of the lead lap to avoid trouble.
But with late wrecks and restarts they got stuck in the back with not enough time to move forward. And Johnson’s car started to overheat.
“There were one or two times I’m like ‘We’re wrecking, we’re wrecking, stay in it,’” Johnson said he told Earnhardt, who was pushing him. “I didn’t know what to do and it looked like gaps were closing up and we were going to crash.”
Johnson finished 26th. He moved up from eighth to seventh in the standings but fell further behind in points and is now 50 behind with four races left in the season. Earnhardt finished 25th
Gordon lost Martin as a drafting partner to a wreck and negotiated a deal over the radio to partner with Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne for the final restart. But when the restart came, Bayne didn’t go with Gordon because of orders to help other Ford drivers instead. Gordon drives for Chevy.
Gordon who finished 27th, said that if he was going to get messed over “you’d like them to say it to your face. Or at least on the radio. I would have been fine with that.”
Gordon worked with Bayne at Daytona when no other driver wanted to, taking the rookie under his wing. He said Bayne talked to him after the race and “feels terrible about it.”
Kurt Busch’s Chase chances were crippled when he slammed into Regan Smith. Smith was turned into the wall while being pushed by Michael Waltrip, the team owner making one of his rare Sprint Cup starts.
Smith slid down off the wall and right into Busch’s path. Busch finished 36th and fell to eighth in the standings at 52 points behind.
The happiest driver other than Bowyer may have been Edwards, who now leads second-place Matt Kenseth by 14 points.
Edwards partnered with Roush Fenway teammate Greg Biffle and the two decided to follow a conservative strategy while other Chase drivers were wrecking.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been as excited about 11th place,” Edwards said. “We came I here with a small points lead and we’re leaving with a bigger one.”
Dave Blaney finished third for his low-budget Tommy Baldwin Racing team with pushing help from Brad Keselowski, who finished fourth.
Brian Vickers finished fifth, followed by Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. in the top 10.
1. Clint Bowyer
2. Jeff Burton
3. Dave Blaney
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Brian Vickers
6. Kasey Kahne
7. Tony Stewart
8. Denny Hamlin
9. Michael Waltrip
10. Martin Truex Jr.
11. Carl Edwards
12. Paul Menard
13. David Reutimann
14. Greg Biffle
15. Trevor Bayne
16. Landon Cassill
17. Casey Mears
18. Matt Kenseth
19. Marcos Ambrose
20. Mark Martin
21. Travis Kvapil
22. David Gilliland
23. Juan Pablo Montoya
24. Joey Logano
25. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
26. Jimmie Johnson
27. Jeff Gordon
28. David Ragan
29. Jamie McMurray
30. Regan Smith
31. AJ Allmendinger
32. Kevin Harvick
33. Kyle Busch
34. Terry Labonte
35. Bobby Labonte
36. Kurt Busch
37. Robby Gordon
38. Ryan Newman
39. Andy Lally
40. Michael McDowell
41. Joe Nemechek
42. JJ Yeley
43. Kevin Conway