TALLADEGA, Ala. – Teamwork meant very little in the closing laps at Talladega Superspeedway.
Unless, of course, you were driving a Ford.
Clint Bowyer bailed on teammate Jeff Burton on the last lap of Sunday’s race, pulling around him when the checkered flag was in sight to pick up his first win of the season and the 100th in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing.
“You hate that it comes down to that; it is what it is,” shrugged Bowyer. “You owe it to your team, to your sponsors to go out and win the race. Unfortunately, it came down to that situation.”
Burton and the RCR bunch understood that’s how the game is played.
The grumbling was far behind the leaders, where Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne ditched Jeff Gordon because Bayne was part of a pact made by Ford drivers to only push fellow Ford drivers in an effort to help Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth in the championship race.
Gordon was seventh on the final restart and thought Bayne was committed to pushing him over the last two laps. Instead, Bayne backed off, and Gordon, with no help, faded to 27th. An animated Bayne went immediately to Gordon’s car after the race, then posted his thoughts on Twitter.
“I’m not happy about what this has become,” he posted on Twitter in reference to Talladega’s two-car drafting style and the reliance on partners.
“It’s too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around us. I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell (Gordon) I would work with him and then be strong-armed into bailing.”
Gordon said he was deceived.
“The Fords made it very clear about what they were doing in working with one another,” Gordon said. “So I didn’t expect him to commit to me on the radio. I expected him to say, ‘Man, I’m sorry, I can’t.’ And when he said, ‘Yeah, I’m pushing you, we’re good,’ I believed him. I think they had a different plan.”
The race at NASCAR’s biggest and fastest track finished roughly 30 minutes after the memorial service for two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon ended in Indianapolis. Wheldon was killed in the IndyCar season finale a week ago at Las Vegas, and NASCAR honored him with decals on all the cars and a moment of silence before the start of the race.
The Wheldon death made for some poignant moments during pre-race, as Kevin Harvick clung tightly to wife, Delana, and many drivers were seen giving long embraces to loved ones.
And as expected, the race heated up in the closing laps.
Drivers jockeyed for position and partners in the new two-car drafting system. Although the race was not marred by “the big one,” there was a series of accidents, the last, with only eight laps left.
It made for a shake-up in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings. Harvick and Kyle Busch were both in accidents, and five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson finished 26th.
Edwards, who came into the race up five points over Harvick, finished 11th and saw his lead swell to 14 points over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
There were hard feelings after the race as drivers were upset at etiquette in the closing laps.