It was a swan song for a lame duck.
Clint Bowyer surged past Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton through the tri-oval on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway to win Sunday's Good Sam Club 500.
Bowyer, who will leave RCR for Michael Waltrip Racing next season, beat Burton to the start/finish line by .018 seconds to record his first victory of the season and the fifth of his career. The win was the 100th in the Sprint Cup Series for team owner Richard Childress.
On a two-lap run to the finish that followed the ninth caution of the race, Bowyer, the defending winner of the race, pushed Burton to a lead of more than 20 car lengths over the pack that was chasing them. That gave Bowyer the luxury of a slingshot move past Burton in the tri-oval. Bowyer nosed ahead 1,200 feet from the finish line and held on?barely.
"Whenever you leave here not wrecked, you ought to be happy, but at the same time, I'm heartbroke we didn't win the race," said Burton, who recorded his first top-five finish in more than a year. "Having said all of that, I don't know what I would have done different.
"Honestly, I thought he made his move too early. I kind of gave him the bottom, because you tend to be able to pull them back to you better when you're on their right rear quarter panel. He made his move really early, I thought. I thought I'd be able to pull back to him, but he had a lot of momentum when he made the move."
Bowyer realized he was taking his shot early but decided to seize the moment when Burton gave him the inside line.
"He kind of moved up off of [Turn] 4, and I knew it was too early to go, but it was going to be a drag race, and it would give us both a shot at it," Bowyer said. "He worked so well with me all day long. You hate that it comes down to that, but it is what it is, and you owe it to your team and your sponsors to go out and win the race.
"Unfortunately, it came down to that situation, but -- trust me -- I was prepared to push him to the win, no matter what the cost was, if we'd have had people breathing down our necks. It just wasn't meant to be for him. He's been a great teammate, and I've learned a lot from him -- but he's already won a lot of races , and I've only won five."
Dave Blaney, pushed by Brad Keselowski, ran third, with Keselowski taking the flag in fourth in a race that saw only five drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup finish in the top 24. Keselowski gained three positions to third in the Chase standings.
Red Bull Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne finished fifth and six, followed by Chase drivers Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Michael Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top 10.
Carl Edwards came home 11th and extended his lead in the Chase to 14 points over second-place Matt Kenseth, who finished 18th.
A six-car wreck on Lap 104 did major damage to the Chase chances of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. As the lead pack of cars sped through the tri-oval, a push from Marcos Ambrose turned Richard Petty Motorsports teammate AJ Allmendinger, triggering a crash that crumpled the hood of Harvick's Chevrolet and knocked in the driver's side of Busch's Toyota.
Harvick lost two laps during multiple pit stops to repair his car, and Busch spent 11 laps in the garage before bringing his hobbled car back on the track on Lap 118. Later black-flagged because his car leaking oil, Harvick finished 32nd, nine laps down and fell to fifth in the standings, 26 points behind Edwards.
Busch was credited with 33rd, 13 laps down, and is sixth in the Chase standings, 40 points back.
Pole-sitter Mark Martin finished 20th to lead a disappointing train of Hendrick drivers who continued their disappearing act from the title race this year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 25th, and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson came home 26th -- one spot ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon -- to drop 50 points behind Edwards with four races left in the Chase.
Two early incidents broke up potent drafting combinations. On Lap 67, Joey Logano spun off Turn 4 in close quarters with Trevor Bayne, who was trying to get to pit road. Before Logano could complete another lap, his left front tire exploded, destroying the left front fender of his Toyota.
That left Busch, who had been drafting with Logano, to pair up with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin, a prospect considered so unlikely before the race that the organization hadn't established radio channels that would allow Busch, Hamlin and their spotters and crew chiefs to communicate freely.
Stewart lost his partner, teammate Ryan Newman, when Newman spun off Stewart's bumper in the tri-oval. With heavy front-end damage, Newman lost a lap on pit road as his team repaired the car and two more laps on the race track before taking his car to the garage after 97 laps.
Coincidentally, Stewart then teamed with Logano, who was driving the No. 20 Home Depot car that carried Stewart to Cup championships in 2002 and 2005. Logano pushed Stewart to the lead on Lap 101, before the pileup in Turn 1 on Lap 104 ended the brief partnership between Hamlin and Busch and changed the complexion of the race and the Chase.