Bowyer tops Hamlin in fuel mileage race
Clint Bowyer was once again was the master of fuel mileage as he managed to stretch his gas just enough to claim his third victory of the season with a win in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, while points leader Brad Keselowski stumbled late in the race, tightening up the points battle Chase for the Sprint Cup with five races remaining.
Bowyer took over the top spot after polesitter Greg Biffle pitted for a splash of fuel with 25 laps to go, running the final 56 lap on a single tank of fuel to hold off Denny Hamlin by four car-lengths at the line for his first career Charlotte victory.
Jimmie Johnson was third, followed by Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch, but it was a disastrous night for Keselowski as he finished a lap down in 11th after running out of fuel late in the race.
Bowyer himself was running on fumes when he crossed the start/finish line, and as if to prove just how close to the edge he was, his no. 15 Toyota Camry ran out of gas doing his celebratory burnout.
And for the third time this season, he walked to victory lane.
“We were about a burnout full, that’s how much we were short,” said Bowyer, who also ran out of gas following his wins at Sonoma and Richmond earlier this season. “I definitely hope to walk the next five weeks for sure. I need all the exercise I can get. It’s fun to walk to victory lane, that’s the best walk you can ever have.”
Bowyer managed to gain 12 points in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings and moved up one spot to fourth, but at 28 points back would need a lot of help in the final five races to have any chance of making a run for the title.
“To be back in victory lane, new life, new hope going into Kansas, there’s a lot of races left,” said Bowyer. “You don’t know if somebody is going to stub their toe, if somebody is going to struggle. All it would have taken is for one for one of those three to run out of gas, that opens up the door for everybody. With a win here, it definitely gave us new life and new hope.
Despite having the dominant car all night, Keselowski once again came out on the losing end of the fuel mileage game for the second straight night.
Having led a race-high 139 laps, Keselowski was one of several drivers trying to stretch each fuel run to try to make it to the finish on one more pit stop.
Giving up the lead on lap 275, Keselowski came to pit road for what he hoped was his last stop, but his strategy backfired as he ended up running out of fuel coming to his pit stall.
Rejoining the field after a 22-second pit stop, Keselowski was told he was going to be four laps short on fuel, and decided to gain as many spots as possible rather than try and save fuel and risk coming up short, finally pitting for the last time with 24 laps to go and going a lap down. He would end up finishing 11th and managed to hold onto the points lead, but saw his lead on second-place Jimmie Johnson cut in half from 14 points to seven.
“It’s like playing blackjack. Sometimes you’re going to get a good deal but you’re not going to win ‘em all. When you have a bad deal, you try to not have too many chips on the table,” said Keselowski. “We didn’t lose too much. We did the best we could and certainly had a solid effort where we led a bunch of laps, led the most laps which feels great, and got those bonus points, so an 11th-place finish is more like a ninth with those. Still, we would have liked to have gotten the finish that we deserved.”
Johnson and Hamlin both played a conservative strategy late in the race, trying to save as much as they could so they were able make to the end after pitting on lap 280, while hoping Keselowski would stumble. And stumble he did.
“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” said Hamlin.
“I saw him (run out of fuel). He was going down the back and had a lot of speed, so I figured he was going to be fine,” said Johnson. “I don't know how much it hurt him at the end of the day.
Hamlin also trimmed his points deficit on the points leader, still holding third just 15 points back.
Mark Martin finished in the sixth position, followed by Carl Edwards. Kasey Kahne came home eighth and fell to fifth in points, 35 points behind. Joey Logano and Martin Truex, Jr. made up the rest of the top 10.
Among the cars that failed to finish the event were Regan Smith – driving to no. 88 Chevrolet in place of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
* Denotes Rookie
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