As expected the two car tandem style of drafting dominated the Good Sam Club 500 at Talledega Super Speedway, Clint Bowyer ducking out from behind partner, and Richard Childress Racing teammate, Jeff Burton to take the win – the 100th for the team in the top level of NASCAR.
Burton and Bowyer – who is set to leave Childress' team at the end of the year – kept together for the entire race, sharing 51 laps at the front of the field. Crucially, as promising partnerships came apart towards the end of the race the two Chevrolets were at the front when the final caution came out.
Mark Martin – acting as pusher for Jeff Gordon – moved down on Denny Hamlin, spinning into Regan Smith who hit the outside wall hard – rebounding from the SAFER barrier to the extent he was lucky not to be collected by anyone following.
The accident robber Jeff Gordon of his drafting partner, with Hendrick Motorsport teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson already paired up with each other. Gordon's best hope of victory in the final laps came in the shape of Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, but manufacturer politics decried Bayne should drop Gordon in favour of fellow Ford driver Matt Kenseth for the final tilt.
Kenseth, winner of the race the previous weekend at Charlotte had been a near constant fixture at the front. Working with David Ragan – reprising the partnership that won the race at Daytona in July for Ragan – Kenseth led on seven separate occasions for 21 laps, but found himself without the no.6 car when the time came to push for the win. Even with Bayne's help Kenseth could only record an eighteenth place finish. Gordon, without much help for the final laps, fell to 27th.
At the front of the field Burton was able to pull Bowyer away from the field – led by the pair of Red Bull Toyotas and Tony Stewart, paired with Paul Menard in a third Childress car. However, the lead pair had built up enough of a lead, and entering the tri-oval for the final time Bowyer pulled out from under Burton spoiler to the inside and took the lead.
Not that there weren't nervous moments.
For a split second Burton appeared ready to move down on Bowyer, threatening contact as the two cars approached the line but, though just 0.018 seconds split them the pair were able to reach the line comfortably clear of the unlikely duo of Dave Blaney and Brad Keselowski.
Blaney – driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing – finished third, equalling his career best finish just as he did in the corresponding race in 2007, when Baldwin was his crew chief for Bill Davis Racing.
Penske man Keselowski in fourth was the best placed of the Chase contender, and moved himself into third in points behind Kenseth and leader Carl Edwards who enjoyed a trouble free run to eleventh place after running a conservative race away from the battle for the lead.
Tony Stewart (seventh) and Denny Hamlin (ninth) were the only other Chase drivers to come away with top tens, while others suffered title hope denting runs in what was billed as the 'Wild Card' race of the Chase For The Sprint Cup.
Ryan Newman was the first to fall, a victim of the typical accident brewed by the tandem drafting, spinning off the bumper pusher and teammate Tony Stewart before sliding through the tri-oval grass and ripping the splitter from his no.39 Chevrolet.
The last was Kurt Busch, who collected a spinning Bobby Labonte, causing heavy frontal damage to the Penske Racing Dodge.
Happily, the race was conducted with the 'Big One' the typical large that can sweep up dozens of cars. The biggest accident of the day – at least by the numbers involved – happened on lap 105 when A.J. Allmendinger spun out of the high line of three wide racing collecting Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Juan Montoya and Kyle Busch.
The accident delayed Harvick and Busch, both Chase competitors, leaving them only able to finish 32nd and 33rd and dropping down to fifth and sixth in points with four races remaining until the champion is crowned. Five-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson is currently seventh in points.