It was wild, all right, it just wasn’t decisive.
NASCAR’s three title contenders left Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway with their championship chances intact, as Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick remained locked at the top of the tightest points fight in seven years after a typically chaotic race.
Clint Bowyer edged Harvick, his Richard Childress Racing teammate, in a photo-finish Sunday. But Harvick was just fine settling for second because it’s the big picture that matters now.
Johnson, the four-time defending champion, left Talladega with a 14-point lead over Hamlin and Harvick was 38 back. There are three races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“We’ve gone through seven races, and you can throw a blanket over the three of us,” Harvick said. “It’s really going to just come down to dotting the I’s, crossing the T’s, keeping that performance level where it needs to be.”
“It’s going to be an awesome championship battle all the way to Homestead, and I’m really looking forward to it,” Johnson echoed.
The race was marked by 87 lead changes, second most in NASCAR history, and a multicar accident that sent AJ Allmendinger’s car flipping across the track as the leaders roared toward the white flag. NASCAR threw the caution for Allmendinger’s accident, and nobody had any idea who was out front when the yellow waved. It took several minutes of reviews for NASCAR to declare Bowyer the victor.
While Bowyer celebrated in Victory Lane, the title contenders tried to make sense of the day. Johnson hovered around a TV monitor in the infield media center to watch replays of the final two laps, while a wide-eyed Harvick was later distracted by another view.
“Oh, I didn’t know somebody flipped,” he said.
Top 12 in points: 1. J. Johnson, 6,149; 2. D. Hamlin, 6,135; 3. K. Harvick, 6,111; 4. J. Gordon, 5,942; 5. Ky. Busch, 5,919; 6. C. Edwards, 5,902; 7. T. Stewart, 5,832; 8. M. Kenseth, 5,825; 9. Ku. Busch, 5,799; 10. J. Burton, 5,797; 11. G. Biffle, 5,788; 12. C. Bowyer, 5,782.
John Force moved closer to a possible 15th Funny Car season title, beating Matt Hagan in the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals for his record 131st career victory.
Force, seeking his first season title since 2005, is second in the standings, 37 points behind Hagan with only the season-ending race in Pomona, Calif., left.
In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher raced to his fifth win of the season and 67th overall.
Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won.