Talladega’s Amp Energy Juice 500 was a 189 lap thrill-fest. David Ragan’s top speed of over 205 miles per hour and the 85 lead changes among 26 drivers came close to setting another NASCAR Sprint Cup record. Sam Hornish proved his drafting abilities early in the race pushing Kurt Busch and several other drivers to the front and keeping them there.
The big one came on the last lap as #43 A.J. Allmendinger turned on his roof and smacked the inside wall head on. Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya teamed up against Kevin Harvick and #00 David Reutiman. The two RCR teammates took the white flag with Harvick leading, but NASCAR had to look at scoring loops around the track to see who had the lead when the caution flew. Reutiman came in third and Montoya finished in fourth
Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and several other NASCAR Chase contenders took a different approach to the race, falling to the back and hanging there early on, most likely to avoid any trouble with the ‘Big One’ at the fast restrictor plate track. Gordon and Johnson worked their way through the field to first and second respectively with 11 laps to go, but immediately Gordon radioed in that his engine was blowing and began dropping back. Gordon hung on to finish eighth.
Denny Hamlin fought his way to the front several times, but the driver fighting to hold on to second place in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship experienced problems halfway through the race and fell to the back losing all the drafting help he needed to stay up front and gain more points on Chase front runner Jimmie Johnson.
Two car drafting at the superspeedway dominated the running throughout the day. Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton showed their mastery of the draft as they swapped first and second several times, cooling their engines without the second pack of cars catching them. Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed signs of his restrictor plate racing dominance, taking the lead of the 2.66 mile circuit at Talladega several times throughout the day and leading the most laps.
Lap 134 ended the great runs for both Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton. Earnhardt, bump drafting just a little too hard through the turn, lifted the rear end of Burton’s # 31 off the track. Burton tried to recover turning down the track and back up hard into the wall, clipping the front end of the #88. Burton’s day came to and end in flames and smoke on the inside of the track as Earnhardt had to pull his car into the garage area for repairs.
The caution allowed Jimmie Johnson to stay out on the track and gain bonus points for leading a lap. Hamlin was kept a lap down. Jamie MacMurray and Kevin Harvick sustained some damage on the caution and went to the pits several times for repairs. Johnson finished in ninth.
On the restart, Marcos Ambrose lost control in a four wide pack of cars. He bumped between Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and Clint Bowyer before spinning down in front of Kevin Harvick severely damaging his front end. In a stroke of luck for Hamlin, the third caution gave him the ‘Lucky Dog’ pass and put the #11 back on the lead lap. Hamlin, with the help of his teammate Kyle Busch was able to take advantage of being back on the lead lap and got his five points for leading by lap 159. Hamlin finished in seventh.
When the race ended with the #43 turning upside down, nobody knew who won the race. Bowyer did donuts and Harvick waited patiently for NASCAR to check the time stamps on the last lap. Richard Childress Racing had taken first and second. When the decision came down, Bowyer won the race. Harvick came in second. The Chase points tightened up again with Johnson leading Hamlin by fourteen points and Harvick in third, thirty four points behind.
Although Harvick led at the line before the last caution, when the yellow flag came out, Clint Bowyer had edged his #33 in front. According to NASCAR rules, the car in the lead at the scoring loop is credited with the win if the white flag has fallen.
*****ALL POINTS AND FINISHES ARE UNOFFICIAL*****