Updated: November 5, 2012, 4:19 PM ET

Clint Bowyer's title hopes fade in Texas

Hinton By Ed Hinton

For a moment, Clint Bowyer thought he saw one last glimmer of hope.

"It would have been awesome," he told reporters at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday evening. "I really did think they were going to wreck each other."

Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski weren't so sure themselves.

"Yeah, I felt like we were just going to wreck," Keselowski said.

"We walked right up to that line, got right to the edge," Johnson said, "and then it stopped."

And so did any reasonable chance for Bowyer to resurge to a storybook win of the Chase in his first season with long-suffering Michael Waltrip Racing.

Bowyer finished sixth at Texas after falling behind in midrace with an unscheduled pit stop when he thought he had a tire going down. Before the fateful cautions began to fly with 26 laps to go, he was "sitting pretty good" had the race come down to fuel mileage.

But then, helplessly, he watched Johnson and Keselowski duel through three restarts. Keselowski won the first two -- the second being when they came closest to wrecking -- but Johnson roared away on the decisive green-white-checkered.

Maximum points for the win left Johnson seven points ahead of Keselowski going into the final two races, at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.

But Bowyer saw what the rest of NASCAR Nation saw at sunset and beyond at Texas: Nobody is going to challenge both the duelists. Bowyer is a woeful 36 points behind JJ in third.

"Even if we were winning right now, it ain't enough to run them down for the championship," he said.

Retrospective on this Chase, after it's over, might show that Keselowski and the No. 2 team blinked with 54 laps left Sunday. Keselowski slid too far into his pits on a stop and had to back up to clear Danica Patrick's car, pitted in front of him.

Keselowski took the blame -- but the problem was that his brakes had been locking up on hard stops. So that might have been a minute mechanical blink on the part of the team.

Keselowski led going into that stop and came out ninth. That led to a two-tire gamble on his final stop -- and to what Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus kept mentioning as a clear advantage for the 48 team, on four fresh tires, to Johnson on the radio during the three restarts.

Arguably the best finish of the season emerged from what started out as an apparent continuation of arguably the worst race of the season, at Texas in April. When Sunday's first caution flew, 100 laps into the race, that ended 334 consecutive laps of green-flag racing there, dating back to the spring race.

But after that, eight more cautions came out, keeping the fight tight between Johnson and Keselowski.

Next week's race at Phoenix might keep the standings just as tight, considering that Johnson finished fourth and Keselowski fifth in the most recent race there, back in March.

"I have a lot of respect for that 2 team," Johnson said in Victory Lane. "They're keeping us honest, pressing us hard."

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Nationwide Series: Harvick takes back seat in Texas

Kevin Harvick won so easily Saturday night that just about all of the show was behind him. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was relentless; Elliott Sadler was helpless; Denny Hamlin was seething … and, in the larger scheme of things, 18-year-old Ryan Blaney just kept on coming up through the ranks.

Stenhouse wrestled a fitfully loose car to a fourth-place finish to move into a tie for the lead in points with Sadler, whose tight car kept slipping backward to an agonizing 11th at the end.

But if the Nationwide championship ended now, Stenhouse would have back-to-back titles based on a tiebreaker: his six wins this season to Sadler's four.

Blaney got the best Nationwide finish of his career: second.

"Oh! That was a tough night, man," Stenhouse told ESPN reporters at the track. "The first run wasn't too bad; we got a little tight. Second run was really loose, and we never really caught back up with it."

With a car that loose, Stenhouse went into his usual recover-or-wreck mode, and at times barely avoided spinning out.

"The restart before last, we restarted 11th, and I was just holding it wide open, going where they weren't, trying to get to the front," Stenhouse said. "We got our track position, drove a little better up front.

"All in all it was a tough night, but we battled back the way we needed to going to Phoenix [for next week's penultimate race of the season]," Stenhouse said.

Sadler, who has had a roller-coaster ride in search of this championship, was so dejected that he declined to talk with ESPN pit reporters.

Hamlin, on the other hand, had plenty to say after a sheet-metal shoving match with rookie Austin Dillon.

Dillon had crowded Hamlin to the apron, then hit the Cup veteran after the checkered flag, so Hamlin shoved Dillon into the pit wall as they came off the track.

Dillon left without comment, but Hamlin let loose with a prosecution based on the image both Dillon and his younger brother, Ty, have in NASCAR -- that they're being handed everything they need by their doting grandfather, team owner Richard Childress.

"First of all, he got his ride because of his name," Hamlin said of the elder Dillon brother. "Second of all, you've got to take advantage of the opportunity. If he's points racing [Austin Dillon is third in the Nationwide standings, 21 points behind Stenhouse and Sadler], you can't crowd a guy that's running -- I'm on the bottom. I'm all the way to the apron. So I'm doing everything I can, and after the checkered flag he wants to run into me. So I run him into the fence."

Out of his car on the pit road, Hamlin gave Dillon's crew chief, Danny Stockman, an earful.

"Danny says, 'Look, he don't have to fix it,'" Hamlin said, referring to the old adage that drivers don't worry nearly as much about damaging cars if they don't have to do the repairs themselves.

"Maybe he [Stockman] needs to take his [Dillon's] little a-- over there to fix his race cars," Hamlin said. "He needs to learn a lesson."

Recap | Results

Camping World Truck Series: Banged-up Buescher gets it done

Points leader James Buescher was a bit like some working man out on the farm roads around Texas Motor Speedway, driving a damaged pickup truck because he just didn't have time to get it fixed.

But Buescher pressed on and got his job done, finishing 11th Friday night to stay atop the standings by 15 points over Ty Dillon.

Just short of halfway through the race, Buescher got rear-ended in a traffic jam on a restart, and, from there, there were no more cautions for body-shop work on pit road.

Johnny Sauter, out of contention in the points because of a bumpy season, could at least walk away knowing he swept both Trucks races at Texas. Sauter passed Parker Kligerman with 11 laps to go to take the win.

Cale Gale led on the restart that hampered Buescher.

"The 33 [Gale] spun his tires," Buescher, who restarted third, told Speed reporters at the track. "So it was just bumper cars from there, and we got too much damage [after he was hit by Matt Crafton in the jam] and the truck went really tight, just wouldn't turn, couldn't run the bottom, lost a lot of speed, got really draggy -- and never got a caution to try to do any repairs."

His crew did some jury-rigging on a green-flag stop, but it wasn't enough.

"It's just unfortunate -- and fortunate that we didn't lose more spots than that," Buescher said.

For Sauter, "It's been a season of peaks and valleys, for sure," he said in Victory Lane. "We've had a lot of bad luck this year. … It's easy to hang our heads after the season we've had, but -- another win."

Recap | Results

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.


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