Kevin Harvick OK with runner-up finish

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Richard Childress stood frozen in the pits, "kind of numb," he said later, wondering which of his drivers had won, as NASCAR reviewed video and electronic data.

Then "My grandson Austin [Dillon, himself a budding NASCAR driver] said, 'Come on! We've won the race. We know we've won it. Let's go to [the] winner's circle!'"

And off Childress went, still not knowing whether Clint Bowyer or Kevin Harvick had won Sunday's AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Out on the track, Bowyer was doing a winner's burnout and Harvick was waiting to see if he should execute the same type of move.

Bottom line, young Dillon was right. Yet another variation on classic Talladega wildness was kept all in-house at Richard Childress Racing.

Harvick had taken the white flag slightly in front of Bowyer. Harvick was being pushed by David Reutimann and Bowyer by Juan Pablo Montoya.

But just into that final lap, the caution flew for the final wreck of the day -- AJ Allmendinger's roll and tumble -- and NASCAR froze the field at that split second for the final results.

The electronic "loop data" showed Bowyer slightly in front at the moment the caution came out, so he was awarded the victory.

The duel for the win was a clear illustration that there are no team orders at RCR, even though Harvick is in the thick of a championship fight and Bowyer has fallen out of contention.

Harvick pulled himself to within 38 points of Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished seventh. Denny Hamlin, their only real remaining competition with three races left, finished ninth and pulled to within 14 points of Johnson. That's the closest the top three have been at this point in the Chase since the playoffs' inception in 2004.

Harvick could have put a further 15-point dint in Johnson's margin over him, but Childress insisted it hadn't mattered as he walked and wondered whether the win had gone to Harvick, or had turned out as Bowyer's second win of the Chase.

"Although we're racing for a championship … if you've got a chance to win a Cup race, you gotta go after it," Childress said. "I just told them, 'If it comes down to a win, you guys have gotta do what you gotta do.'"

So Bowyer did, even though his championship chances had been knocked flat with a 150-point penalty after he won the Chase opener with a car later deemed by NASCAR to be illegal.

Both Bowyer and Harvick finished with cars wounded on their noses -- normally a ruinous injury to bodywork here -- from an incident Bowyer helped cause with 47 laps left in the race.

"Both of 'em got beat up a little bit in that one incident on the backstretch, and to be able to come back and run 1-2," Childress said, "I couldn't be happier."

Jammed into drafting traffic, Bowyer had gotten into Marcos Ambrose and turned him across Harvick's path.

"Then I looked up in the mirror and I saw Kevin was tore up," Bowyer said. "I was just sick. It makes you sick to your stomach. You don't want to be the guy, of all the people on the racetrack, to take RCR and all the employees out of a championship."

But soon Bowyer saw Harvick coming in his mirrors, and "as soon as he got back up there, I pushed him, went right back up to the front. I was like, 'Well, thank God.'"

Bowyer got a hole in the nose of his car too, but both crews repaired the damage with heavy plastic masking, though neither car was as aerodynamically slick as before.

That was a testament to the might of the Chevrolet engines developed by the Earnhardt-Childress Racing engine cooperative, which has now powered all four wins on restrictor-plate tracks this year -- two by Harvick, the Daytona 500 by Jamie McMurray, and Bowyer's win Sunday.

"That was an ECR win right there," Bowyer said in Victory Lane. "Kevin coming on the outside, Juan [also with an ECR engine] pushing me."

While Bowyer did his burnout, "I was just waiting," Harvick said of sitting there on the apron. "It was so close because we didn't know where the caution had come out. I was pretty confident that I'd beaten him to the start-finish line [for the white flag], but you just never know where the caution flew."

Montoya stayed glued to Bowyer's bumper for the winning push at the right moment, but said there was no particular plan to aid Bowyer.

In the bedlam of the swirling drafts and jam-packed restrictor-plate racing of Talladega, "There's no setup," Montoya said. "It's what it is. You gotta hook two cars up, and at that point I was the pusher. … The best chance I had to win the race was to push Bowyer up front, and then when we got to the line, try to make a move."

But the field was frozen before the checkered flag came in sight for Montoya to try something. So he ended up with only the gratitude of Bowyer, and a third-place finish.

"We've won some that way and we've lost some that way," Harvick said. "When you come here and your car's still rolling, you're definitely not going to complain about finishing second."

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