On October 13, 2012, Clint Bowyer won his eighth Sprint Cup Series (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) race. 190 races, two teams, and six years later, he is back in a Cup Victory Lane. In the 2018 STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Monday, the Emporia, Kansas native led 215 of 500 laps en route to his ninth career Cup win.
Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole, though his Martinsville starting spot was set by points due to snow forcing qualifying to be canceled and Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race to be moved to Sunday. Hours before the start of Sunday’s action, NASCAR announced both events would be moved to Monday, the first postponement for snow since 1993.
Joining Truex on the front row was Kyle Busch for the second straight week. Truex led the first four laps before Busch passed him, and began to fall as Denny Hamlin also overtook him. Hamlin became the leader on lap 27 and led until the competition caution on lap 50; as qualifying had been canceled and there were only practice sessions on Saturday, the caution was scheduled to allow for drivers to properly adjust their cars. Six laps later, the green flag wove as Hamlin led Busch.
On lap 65, Darrell Wallace Jr., running his first race at Martinsville since he won the 2014 Truck Series event, made contact with J.J. Yeley, cutting the #43’s right-front tire. After making multiple pit stops to repair his car, Wallace was in thirty-eighth and four laps down.
Brad Keselowski took second from Busch on lap 83. Behind him, Truex continued to plummet, and eventually dropped out of the top ten entirely. Hamlin led the field to the end of the first stage on lap 130 to claim his fifth career stage win and first at a short track. Rounding out the top ten were Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Busch, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson. In addition to the strong start, an interesting bit of history was on Hamlin’s side; the 2010 edition of the STP 500 was moved to Monday due to rain, and was also won by Hamlin.
Between stages, Wallace went to the garage to repair his car before coming back out. With the cars slowed down under the yellow flag, officials opened the track gateway to allow an ambulance to transport an injured crewman to the hospital; Zack Young, the jackman on Chris Buescher‘s car, had been hit by another pitting car during stops. Evan Marchal, the gasman on the crew for JTG Daugherty Racing team-mate Allmendinger, replaced Young for the remainder of the race.
Blaney won the race off pit road to become the new leader alongside Hamlin. Stage #2 began on lap 143 as Hamlin pulled ahead before Blaney retook the lead three laps later. Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Bowyer eventually passed the #11 to drop him to fifth. On lap 211, the race saw its only retirement of the day when Landon Cassill, running his first race of the season after signing with StarCom Racing on a two-race deal, sustained damage to the drivetrain that forced him to the garage.
Bowyer began to mount a charge on Blaney, but was unable to catch him as Blaney claimed the stage win. Behind the pair of Fords were Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Allmendinger, Logano, and Johnson.
The final stage began on lap 272 with a Blaney/Busch front row. On the outside line, Blaney maintained his lead as Bowyer passed Busch for second. Bowyer eventually passed Blaney for first on lap 285. Blaney, running along the outside, suffered the consequences as he could not hold off Kyle Busch and Hamlin, who moved past him for second and third. Busch closed in on Bowyer, who needed a caution if he did not want to be the first of the leaders to pit under green flag conditions. This concern was alleviated when on lap 386 when Jamie McMurray was turned by Austin Dillon in turn one to bring out the yellow flag.
During stops, Hamlin was forced to return to pit road for his crew to fix the front; shortly before the caution, he had bumped with Harvick and Truex. Bowyer and Busch led the field to the restart on lap 391. By lap 426, Bowyer had built a lead of .950 seconds over Busch, which grew to over a second after ten laps.
Trevor Bayne hit the wall on lap 455 and suffered a tire rub, but no caution was thrown. With less than ten laps in the race, McMurray’s car began to emit smoke, but was able to pit. At the front, Bowyer remained silent on the radio as he sought to end his dry spell. By the checkered flag, the 190-race winless streak came to an end as he won his ninth career Cup race.
Busch finished second for the third time in 2018, followed by Blaney, Truex, Harvick, Logano, Alex Bowman (his first top ten since the fall Phoenix race in 2016), Allmendinger, Chase Elliott, and Keselowski. Despite his stage win, the damage suffered in the Harvick contact dropped Hamlin out of contention as he finished twelfth.
“Finally to get the 14 in Victory Lane is just a weight off the shoulders,” Bowyer stated. “It’s been a long time. You start to question if you can get it done or not. To have it come at this place meant a lot.”
The win is Bowyer’s first on a short track since the 2008 spring race at Richmond Raceway, and the first for Stewart-Haas Racing at Martinsville since 2014 with Kurt Busch.
The Cup Series will take a week off before returning on April 8 at Texas Motor Speedway with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Johnson is the defending race winner.
2018 STP 500 results
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