With the 2019 season serving as the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, we plan to dip into the archives to present the stories of iconic moments, race wins, championships and much more as part of our weekly Throwback Thursday series
This weekend the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series head to the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, where Richard Childress made his first Cup start in September 1969. Over 50 years, RCR has earned a whopping 12 victories at Talladega – more than any other track on the NASCAR circuit.
While Dale Earnhardt was the ace of Talladega, he was not the only RCR driver to deliver victories at the massive Alabama speedway. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer also earned wins for RCR at the high-banked track.
The team’s 12th victory at Talladega came on October 23, 2011, in a dramatic one-two finish between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, with Bowyer edging his teammate by 0.018 seconds at the line.
That season, the superspeedway racing at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega featured some of the oddest racing in recent memory. Instead of the large pack racing typically seen at the superspeedways, the field was broken up into teams of two as the cars used a tandem draft – cars physically pushing one another – to get around the track and make lap times.
With one car tucked up pushing another car, the tandem would get huge runs on the competition. However, when engine temperatures rose for the car doing the pushing the tandem would have to break apart and the cars would switch places. This made for huge differences in run speeds and incredible closing rates during the course of a run.
The racing may have been odd, but there was no doubt it was some of the most competitive in NASCAR history. This October 2011 event saw a total of 72 lead changes among 26 drivers.
The RCR teammates were some of the most dominant at the front of the field all afternoon that day, with Bowyer and Burton leading 25 and 26 laps respectively.
Harvick was second in the Chase standings heading into the day and was running at the front of the field for the majority of the race with teammate Paul Menard. However, Harvick’s chances at the win were eliminated when A.J. Allmendinger was turned in the tri-oval, triggering a five-car incident.
The No. 29 Chevrolet suffered cosmetic damage and was sent behind the wall for repairs, which brought members of the entire RCR organization together to get him back out on track to finish the race. He eventually made it out and finished the day in the 32nd position and fell to fifth in the Chase standings as a result.
A hard five-car incident in the closing laps set up a green-white-checkered finish with Bowyer and Burton leading the field to the restart. Working together, the teammates immediately made the move to hook up in their tandem draft with Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet out front and Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevrolet pushing him out front.
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As the rest of the field jockeyed for position, the two-car tandem drove away to decide the race among themselves. Coming off Turn 4 on the final lap, Bowyer made a move under his teammate as the two raced side-by-side through the tri-oval. Taking the checkered flag just 0.018 seconds apart, Burton came over the radio telling his teammate, "I don’t know who won that. Good job, Clint," but it was Bowyer that scored the victory.
Drivers were able to talk to one another during the race to help with the tandem drafting and working through the field safely. On the final lap, Burton tried to mess with his teammate over their shared radio.
"I was going down the back straightaway, talking on the radio: ‘I bet you’re thinking about what you’re going to do right now.’ I was going to ask him to give an old man a break, but I knew better than that," said Burton.
"I knew he was going to make a move. He was supposed to make a move. He ain’t supposed to push me to the win. He’s supposed to go and try to win," he said.
"We had a moment. He told me, ‘Bet you were thinking you were going to pass me on the front straightaway.’ I was chuckling. That’s exactly what I was thinking," said Bowyer. "He kind of moved up off of four. I knew it was too early to go, but it was going to be a drag race, give us both a shot at it. I felt like it did. He worked so well with me all day long. You hate that it comes down to that. It is what it is. You owe it to your team, to your sponsors to go out and win the race. Unfortunately, it came down to that situation."
Celebrating 100 years of Chevrolet on the No. 33 that weekend, Bowyer scored his second Talladega Superspeedway victory, RCR’s 12th at the track and the organization’s 100th Cup Series win.
"It was a great win," Childress told the media after the race. "Once I seen the gap they had, Clint and Jeff, I knew there was going to be a move. They did what they were supposed to. All of us hate it for Jeff. But when you’re in this business, you got to do what you got to do for yourself and the team.
"I was really proud of RCR cars all day," said Childress.
"These fans pay a lot of money. I hate it for Kevin, but he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. All of our RCR cars race to give these fans a show. We didn’t sit in the back and ride till the last minute. Our cars ran all day long. We don’t get paid to ride in the back. I’m proud of every one of ’em. I’m proud of Clint getting the win."
The victory was also the final of Bowyer’s career at RCR. After joining the team in the Xfinity Series in 2004, he moved on to Michael Waltrip Racing for the start of the 2012 season.
"It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard. Everybody at RCR, it’s like family over there," said Bowyer.
"Meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal," he said. "The stars were lined up today with having the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet on the race car. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s 11th win. Too many things meant to be for it not to be. I’m excited that it was."