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Bowyer Back In Chase After Winning Fuel Duel

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 14 2012

Clint Bowyer's crew pushes his fuel-expended car to Victory Lane after Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

CONCORD, N.C. – Fuel mileage strategy can be defined rather simply – a love-hate relationship.

In Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, that often frustrating facet of racing smiled on Clint Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing team, allowing the Kansas native to collect his first victory in the Chase and third this season. It also smiled on Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, permitting them to finish second and third, respectively.

However, for point leader Brad Keselowski, fuel mileage strategy became a gremlin that cost him his first finish outside the top 10 since Bristol in August.

The fuel mileage strategy utilized by the teams also altered the Chase’s complexion. Entering the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile track, it appeared the championship battled had boiled down to three drivers – Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin. However, Bowyer’s first CMS victory returned him to contention. Halfway through the 10-race stretch, Keselowski possesses a slim seven-point advantage over Johnson. Hamlin trails by 15 and Bowyer has closed to within 28 points.

“I think the run that won us the race wasn’t the last one, it was the run before that, the next to last run,” said Bowyer, who led three times for 29 laps in the race that had 20 lead changes among eight drivers. “(Crew chief) Brian (Pattie) went out and it was a gutsy call to go out and stretch it as long as possible on the last run. If we would have pitted one lap earlier, I think we would have ran out of gas.”

Keselowski’s Dodge did run out of fuel while he was leading on lap 276 of the 334-lap race. His stop took 22

Clint Bowyer had to walk to Victory Lane Saturday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

seconds to complete.

“I had to coast for quite a ways and it wouldn’t start when I got back to pit road,” said Keselowski, who finished 11th but was the top lap leader with 139. “I think we probably would have finished fourth or fifth from what I can tell if we didn’t run out of fuel, but that’s the way it is.”

Hamlin and Johnson gained an advantage when they pitted for fuel only during the fifth caution period that consumed laps 224-227. That stop came within 10 laps of their previous one.

Johnson slowed considerably during the closing laps after crew chief Chad Knaus told his driver to save fuel.

“It’s just weird running so long, saving fuel like we had to at the end, and the two segments worth,” Johnson said, “but there’s some tracks and some conditions where that’s just the game you have to play. The thing I’m excited about is that we’re now as a 48 car, myself as the driver, able to do that when needed.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb held the reins on Hamlin until four laps remained. That, however, didn’t provide Hamlin with enough time to catch Bowyer.

“I stopped and congratulated Denny on a great run and Denny said, ‘I’ve got too much gas left. I waited too long to make my run,’” Waltrip said. “I said, ‘No, you didn’t. You did perfect.’”

The victory marked the third time this season Bowyer’s crew has had to push its Toyota into the winner’s circle because it was out of fuel.

“Saving fuel really helps me because I back the corner up and the car rotates,” said Bowyer, who averaged 154.935 mph in the race slowed by five caution flags for 23 laps. “It’s kind of like slapping you in the face, saying, ‘Oh, this

Team owner Michael Waltrip congratulates Clint Bowyer. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

is how it’s supposed to feel.’”

Even though the fuel strategy played an instrumental role, Bowyer didn’t believe he would have won if he hadn’t moved up the track and tried to figure out the outside line. Bowyer said Johnson was running him down a couple of times when he decided to moved up the track, back up the corner and try to make the arc of the radius as big as possible.

“I started backing the corner up to get the thing to turn and the next thing you know doing so you’re going faster and saving gas,” Bowyer explained after his eighth career victory.

Hamlin noted any race car driver can “really save gas and be efficient with it.”

“You’re just running the race backwards,” he explained. “You’re just seeing how slow you can go and maintain your track position.”

A tactic Bowyer, along with the help of Pattie and spotter Brett Griffin, apparently has mastered in his first year with MWR.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

1. (4) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 334, $251389.

2. (9) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 334, $220426.

3. (5) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 334, $192396.

4. (1) Greg Biffle, Ford, 334, $189410.

5. (8) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 334, $162818.

6. (2) Mark Martin, Toyota, 334, $109935.

7. (19) Carl Edwards, Ford, 333, $144701.

8. (10) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 333, $99010.

9. (12) Joey Logano, Toyota, 333, $96385.

10. (6) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 333, $115649.

11. (20) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 333, $151380.

12. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 333, $119146.

13. (32) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 333, $134610.

14. (7) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 333, $124296.

15. (14) Sam Hornish Jr.(i), Dodge, 333, $117935.

16. (11) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 333, $122871.

17. (30) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 333, $106793.

18. (13) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 332, $119246.

19. (22) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 332, $104701.

20. (3) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 332, $119443.

21. (21) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 332, $100143.

22. (16) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 332, $73285.

23. (36) David Gilliland, Ford, 331, $89043.

24. (38) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 330, $94968.

25. (41) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 330, $92668.

26. (37) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 329, $98530.

27. (24) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 328, $79860.

28. (39) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 327, $110635.

29. (27) Casey Mears, Ford, 327, $80607.

30. (34) David Reutimann, Chevrolet, 327, $72335.

31. (33) Michael McDowell, Ford, 326, $70135.

32. (15) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 324, $75685.

33. (18) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 303, $95468.

34. (25) David Ragan, Ford, 287, $67160.

35. (29) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(i), Ford, Engine, 190, $67010.

36. (40) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, Engine, 182, $75110.

37. (31) David Stremme, Toyota, Rear Gear, 62, $66705.

38. (26) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Engine, 61, $74828.

39. (28) Mike Bliss(i), Toyota, Rear Gear, 53, $63725.

40. (23) Scott Speed, Ford, Vibration, 50, $63600.

41. (43) Reed Sorenson(i), Toyota, Vibration, 32, $63450.

42. (35) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Brakes, 30, $63325.

43. (42) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, Transmission, 25, $63713.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 154.935 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 14 Mins, 01 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.417 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 23 laps.

Lead Changes: 20 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: G. Biffle 1-2; M. Martin 3-4; G. Biffle 5-37; B. Keselowski 38-41; M. Ambrose 42-43; B. Keselowski 44-71; J. Johnson 72-83; J. Gordon 84-85; B. Keselowski 86-97; J. Johnson 98-134; D. Hamlin 135-167; B. Keselowski 168; J. Johnson 169-172; G. Biffle 173-179; B. Keselowski 180-220; C. Bowyer 221-222; B. Keselowski 223-275; C. Bowyer 276-277; D. Hamlin 278-280; G. Biffle 281-309; C. Bowyer 310-334.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski 6 times for 139 laps; G. Biffle 4 times for 71 laps; J. Johnson 3 times for 53 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 36 laps; C. Bowyer 3 times for 29 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 2 laps; M. Martin 1 time for 2 laps; M. Ambrose 1 time for 2 laps.

Top 12 in Points: B. Keselowski – 2,214; J. Johnson – 2,207; D. Hamlin – 2,199; C. Bowyer – 2,186; K. Kahne – 2,179; G. Biffle – 2,171; M. Truex Jr. – 2,165; T. Stewart – 2,164; J. Gordon – 2,164; K. Harvick – 2,158; M. Kenseth – 2,147; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 2,128.

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 14 2012
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