In 2007 Clint Bowyer scraped into The Chase in twelth place and then won the first race at Loudon. Three years later and he has done the same again so you can understand his feeling of deja vu. He went on to finish third in the Championship in ’07 so hopes to do at least as well, if not better, this time around.
Bowyer led more laps on Sunday night than he has altogether in the previous 26 races this year but felt that in the number 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet he had a really good car underneath him apart from a carburation problem making the engine fluff a little on restarts and giving the other drivers a chance to get round him. And it’s that very problem which might well have won him the race as he spent the last fifty laps chasing down Tony Stewart. Bowyer was told to chase him down at the same time as being told to conserve fuel, coming on the radio to say, “I can do one or other but I can’t do both!” He said afterwards that one advantage of getting to know your Crew Chief was understanding what they were really telling you. He could hear the nervousness in Shane Wilson’s voice so opted to run in fuel saving mode hoping Stewart in the Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet might run out of fuel before the end and, with two laps to go that is exactly what happened.
Tony Stewart, having led for a total of 100 laps, ended up in 24th place and from potentially finishing the day in second place in The Chase found himself in 11th. Stewart had the grace to say afterwards that it was he who ran the car out of fuel, not his team, and it must have been galling to see Bowyer run out of fuel himself whilst performing his victory donuts on the start-finish straight. Less than four pints of fuel was the difference between winning and losing.
Denny Hamlin fought his way up to third earlier in the race only to be spun out by Carl Edwards with less than a third of the race to go sending him back to 22nd in the field. However, the resulting pitstop meant he was one of the few drivers confident that he had enough fuel to fight to the end and brought the FedEx Toyota up to a fine second place pushing the leader hard all the way, hoping he too would run out of fuel, as he crossed the two feet wide granite finish line – in The Granite State – for some valuable points to keep himself in the Championship lead, 35 points ahead of Bowyer who climbed from twelth to second.
Jamie McMurray came third in the McDonald’s Chevrolet, troubled by a splitter hitting the ground if he braked hard and so losing him ground going into the turns. Dale Earhardt Jr. in the number 88 Chevrolet climbed a massive 28 places from 32nd on the grid to finish up in a fine fourth place.
Fifth was Kevin Harvick giving Richard Childress Racing its second car in the top five but complaining bitterly to his crew for most of the race after only being given two tyres in his first pitstop and then losing valuable seconds during the second stop. As so often happens with the driver of the number 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, though, when he’s least happy he seems to get his best results and his fifth place keeps him third in the Championship just forty-five points behind Hamlin.
Of the other Chase runners, Jeff Gordon finished in a solid 6th place, Kyle Busch – having won the Camping World Truck race on Saturday with a tough pass on James Buescher on the Green/White/Checker restart – came in 9th, Carl Edwards 11th despite seeming to be involved in a multitude of incidents and Kurt Busch made it into 13th place. Jeff Burton was another to run out of fuel on the second to last lap which dropped him from a top ten finish back to 15th place and Greg Biffle was 17th.
Matt Kenseth, TonyStewart and Jimmie Johnson hold positions 23 to 25 and have it all to do if they hope to win The Chase. Johnson had one of those races to forget getting embroiled in other people’s misfortunes and having to make a late pitstop after complaining of a possible loose wheel. Stewart and Johnson in the Lowe’s Chevrolet were the biggest losers in the points table, both dropping five places.
The next round is this Sunday at Dover, a circuit that some drivers really like and others look upon as a bogey track. There’s every chance the driver standings in The Chase could receive another reshuffle.