Bowyer Starts Chase A Winner
LOUDON, N.H. — Clint Bowyer dominated Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for more than 200 laps, then seemingly saw it slip away with a series of bad restarts.
As the opening round of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup became a fuel mileage race, however, it all came back to Bowyer as he nursed his final fuel load for 93 laps, while Tony Stewart’s lasted only 92 laps.
“I think we may have gotten some dirt in the carburetor and I couldn’t get going on restarts, but it actually worked in my favor,” Bowyer said, alluding to the fact his engine at less than full power used less fuel.
He may have only saved a quart more than Stewart, but that quart was decisive as Stewart slowed off turn four coming to the white flag, allowing the closely following Bowyer to lead the last two laps aboard Richard Childress Racing’s Cheerios Chevrolet. Stewart eventually was scored as the last car to complete the full distance.
It was Bowyer’s first victory of the season and it reduced the chances the Sprint Cup title could wind up being won by a driver without a race win.
It took place at the site of his first victory, which was the Chase opener of 2007. Denny Hamlin preserved the point lead from the pre-Chase seeding by taking second, with Jamie McMurray the best non-Chaser in third.
Earnhardt nation received a boost as Dale, Jr. came home fourth ahead of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr. completed the top 10.
Other Chase finishers were Carl Edwards 11th, Kurt Busch 13th, Jeff Burton 15th after also running out of fuel during the final circuits, Greg Biffle 17th, Matt Kenseth 23rd, Stewart 24th and Jimmie Johnson 25th, one lap down.
Stewart took the lead from Bowyer on a lap-211 restart, which began a choppy 40 laps that saw four more cautions in rapid succession. Hamlin, Gordon, Earnhardt and Harvick all topped off their tanks at one point or another, but Stewart, McMurray and Bowyer rolled the dice.
For Bowyer and McMurray it was a winning gamble, but for Stewart, it came up snake eyes.
“I’m not happy, that’s for sure, but we went down swinging,” said Stewart, adding, “It’s hard to lose one like that, but it was fun racing Clint like that. He was definitely the fastest car and congratulations to those guys.”
For Hamlin, who qualified a disappointing 22nd, the finish provided redemption after a frustrating race. He appeared out of contention when Carl Edwards sent him around in turn four at lap 224, but the subsequent stop helped him make it to the finish.
“It took us half the race, actually three-quarters of the race, to get up front and then as soon as we got there, we got spun,” he related. “Luckily, it’s a double-edged sword. It made us come in, we had to get fuel and get tires, and it gave us the fuel for the end.”
For most of the race, Bowyer appeared untouchable. Starting second, he first took command at lap 29 and was in front for 174 of the next 182 laps before dropping as far back as fourth during the spate of caution flags. Fuel strategy was his primary concern. “It’s terrible. You want to go and I thought I could run [Stewart] down, but I was just using so much fuel through the middle of the corner that I had to back it down,” he explained.
The triumph, which was crew chief Shane Wilson’s first at the Sprint Cup level, brought a surge of confidence to the last team to nail down a spot in the Chase.
“Confidence, momentum, everything that a first win brings, the first race of the Chase, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Second in points, let’s go get ’em,” Bowyer proclaimed.