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Bowyer wins as Gordon secures final Chase spot

NASCAR at Richmond
Sunday, September 09, 2012

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Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer had a gulp of gas just big enough to win the race. Rick Hendrick had Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon join the Chase field.

In a rain-interrupted race of accumulating tension, Bowyer made it to the finish line 1.198 seconds ahead of Gordon in the closing laps of Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Gordon knocked Kyle Busch out of the final wild-card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The victory was Bowyer's second of the season, his second at Richmond and the seventh of his career. He and teammate Martin Truex Jr. are the first two Michael Waltrip Racing drivers to make the 12-driver Chase field.

MWR teammate Mark Martin ran third, followed by Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, but the big story was Gordon's comeback that put all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the Chase. Gordon joined Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 10-race playoff.

For Busch, it was a failed pit strategy that led to his ouster from the second wild-card spot, a position he held entering the race and for the vast majority Saturday night. When a light rain caused the sixth caution on Lap 275, Busch stayed out while others came to pit road for fuel. A slow pit stop under green on Lap 334, thanks to a dropped lug nut on the right-rear wheel, did further damage to his chances and allowed Gordon to make the Chase by a three-point margin.

Several times in the last 11 laps, the second provisional wild-card spot changed hands between Gordon and Busch, who entered the race with a 12-point lead over Gordon. When Busch passed Martin Truex Jr. for the 15th position on Lap 390 of 400, he had the berth. When Gordon passed Mark Martin on Lap 394, he took it back.

Ultimately, Busch dropped positions to Marcos Ambrose and Hendrick driver and pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was on a late-race mission to help his teammate make the Chase.

"We missed," Busch said tersely after the race was over. "Plain and simple."

Team owner Joe Gibbs advised his mercurial driver to handle his disappointment the right way.

"There's no right way to handle this situation," was Busch's rejoinder.

Gordon started second but quickly faded. By the time rain halted the race on Lap 152, he was a lap down and going nowhere. Under the caution that preceded the red flag, however, his crew cut the chain to the rear sway bar to disconnect it, and the handling of the No. 24 Chevrolet improved dramatically.

"I felt like I won the race [Saturday]," Gordon said. "When that was over, when they told me I was in the Chase, we made it -- I mean, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts. To me, after you have that kind of effort, fall back, then come up there and finish second, almost win the race, make it by [three points], man, I don't see any reason why we can't go over these next 10 races and be a real threat for the championship."

Bowyer recovered from a spin just past the midpoint of the race and rallied for the win. On Lap 234, contact with Juan Montoya's Chevrolet deflated Bowyer's left-rear tire. Fighting for control, Bowyer looped his car near the start/finish line .

"Thank you, Juan Pablo, for wrecking me and then winning me the race -- thank you!" quipped Bowyer, who was then in position to gamble on fuel mileage. "We had a bad race last weekend [at Atlanta] and had a lot of adversity we had to bounce through, were kind of bummed out as a team, as a whole, coming into this race.

"It's a good way to get things bounced back headed into this Chase. You can't ask for a better race team, my teammates, MWR, everybody that's a part of this. It's just unbelievable."

The consolation for Joe Gibbs Racing is that Denny Hamlin begins the Chase as the No. 1 seed on the strength of four victories in the first 26 races. That provides little solace for Busch's crew chief Dave Rogers, who made the decision to keep his driver on the track when a pit stop would have been the safe play.

"We missed it -- my fault," Rogers radioed to Busch. "One hundred percent my fault."

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 4 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 47/4 400 Running
2 2 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 43/1 400 Running
3 6 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 41/0 400 Running
4 28 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 41/1 400 Running
5 17 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Best Buy 39/0 400 Running
6 20 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 38/0 400 Running
7 10 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 37/0 400 Running
8 14 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Quicken Loans 37/1 400 Running
9 23 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M / Owens & Minor 35/0 400 Running
10 13 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser 34/0 400 Running
11 11 22 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 0 400 Running
12 21 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Quaker State 33/1 400 Running
13 5 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 32/1 400 Running
14 1 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard 31/1 400 Running
15 22 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Mac Tools 29/0 400 Running
16 15 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 28/0 400 Running
17 16 99 Carl Edwards Ford Kellogg's 27/0 400 Running
18 7 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 28/2 400 Running
19 12 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King 25/0 400 Running
20 24 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 24/0 400 Running
21 9 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 24/1 400 Running
22 26 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Allstate 22/0 398 Running
23 25 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards / Moen 21/0 398 Running
24 3 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / Farm American 20/0 398 Running
25 29 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Bush's Baked Beans 19/0 397 Running
26 18 43 Aric Almirola Ford Smithfield 18/0 397 Running
27 32 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 17/0 397 Running
28 30 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Phoenix Construction 16/0 396 Running
29 42 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 15/0 396 Running
30 8 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 14/0 396 Running
31 35 38 David Gilliland Ford Mossy Oak / Pursuit Channel 13/0 395 Running
32 27 34 David Ragan Ford Taco Bell 12/0 395 Running
33 33 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing 11/0 395 Running
34 37 10 David Reutimann Chevrolet Inc. 5000 / @TMone 6-peat 10/0 393 Running
35 39 32 Ken Schrader Ford Federated Auto Parts 9/0 393 Running
36 36 33 Stephen Leicht * Chevrolet Special Ops OPSEC 8/0 390 Running
37 31 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 7/0 127 Brakes
38 34 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AM / FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves 0 90 Brakes
39 38 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 5/0 78 Brakes
40 40 119 Mike Bliss Toyota Plinker Tactical 0 70 Wheel Bearing
41 19 98 Michael McDowell Ford Phil Parsons Racing 4/1 63 Brakes
42 41 26 Josh Wise * Ford MDS Transport 2/0 57 Brakes
43 43 191 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet Plinker Tactical 0 57 Power Steering

* Denotes Rookie

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