Bowyer Best at Charlotte

Clint Bowyer

Bowyer celebrates his first win on a 1.5-mile track. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)


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CONCORD, N.C. - Clint Bowyer was able to stretch his final fuel load to the checkered flag and won Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowyer, who was the only driver among the lead-lap finishers that made six pit stops, found a new line on the racetrack to help him go the final 56 laps on fuel.  He held off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps to score his third victory of the season and first at CMS.

"I don't think I would have won the race had I not moved up and tried to figure out that outside line," Bowyer said.  "A couple times, Jimmie (Johnson) was running me down and I was like, 'I'm going to go up here, back the corner up and try to make the arc of the radius as big as possible, to get the thing to turn.'  Next thing you know, you're going faster and saving gas.

"Truly, 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, where Brian (Pattie, crew chief) went out - and it was a gutsy call - to go out and stretch it as long as possible on the last run, and if we would have pitted one lap earlier I think we would have run out of gas."

Brad KeselowskiBowyer ran out of gas on his first rotation of a celebratory burnout along the frontstretch.  After climbing from his car and grabbing the checkered flag, he walked to Victory Lane while his team pushed the car.

"I definitely hope to walk the next five weeks for sure," Bowyer said.  "I need exercise after these races.  I need all the exercise I can get.  It's fun to walk to Victory Lane.  Let me tell you, that's the best walk you could ever have.  I think that's my new trademark.  I'll walk home if it means Victory Lane."

The win, which was Bowyer's first on a 1.5-mile track, gave the No. 15 team new life in the Chase as it moved up one spot to fourth, 28 points out of the lead.

"To be back in Victory Lane, new life, new hope going into Kansas, there are a lot of races left," Bowyer said.  "There's a couple short tracks and Kansas Speedway, nobody really knows what to expect there.  It's a repave.  You know these cars that are running on these mile-and-a-halfs are going to be fast there, but you don't know if somebody is going to stub their toe, if somebody is going to struggle if it comes down to fuel mileage.  All it would have taken for one of those three cars to be in the situation that I was in - stretch it out, run out of gas ... that opens the door for everybody."

After a couple disappointing finishes due to fuel mileage already in this year's Chase, runner-up Hamlin finally had one go somewhat his way.

"Darian (Grubb, crew chief) made the call to bring us in and lose all of our track position in the middle of the race, which I was kind of frustrated with," Hamlin said.  "But obviously, he knew what he was doing and we saved the fuel that we needed.  We slowed down just enough to finish second.  But it'll be interesting to see how much fuel we had left and whether we could have cut the reins a little bit sooner and passed the '15.'  We just needed one more lap.

"But it's tough because I'm sitting there thinking, 'I can go by this 15 or catch him just about any time I want,' but Darian is screaming at me to back it off."

Jimmie Johnson also had to conserve fuel en route to his third-place finish.

"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 are 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.

"We're still learning.  We don't have the confidence just yet that we see the '2' car show in some situations, how hard they can run, but we finished two fuel-mileage races here and stretched it much further than we have in years past.  I feel like we're becoming a stronger race team in that department."

Kyle Busch and polesitter Greg Biffle, who led 71 laps, rounded out the top five.  Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top 10.  For Martin, Bowyer's MWR teammate, it was his 850th career Cup Series start.

Clint BowyerSeries points leader Brad Keselowski, who led the most laps with 139, looked like he had the race in hand with a comfortable lead in the late going but was forced to pit for fuel as the Miller Lite Dodge team miscalculated its mileage.  After running out of gas with 58 laps to go, Keselowski was forced to play catch-up the remainder of the night.

"It’s like playing blackjack," Keselowski said afterwards.  "Sometimes you’re going to get a good deal, but you’re not going to win 'em all.  You know that.  You hope you’re sitting there with 13 and not have a lot of chips in the pile.  We didn’t.  We didn’t lose too much.  We got 11th (place) out of the day where everything kind of fell against us, from cautions at the beginning to lack of 'em at the end.  We still put out a respectable effort.  Good day, led a bunch of laps, which helps for not getting in the top 10.  Would like to get those other few spots, but you’re not going to catch those breaks every time.  We still made the most of it.”

Keselowski still leads the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings by seven points over Johnson while Hamlin moved to within 15 of the lead.

Regan Smith, making his first appearance as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, had a disappointing night.  After working his way into the top 20, Smith’s car blew an engine on lap 61 to knock him out of the race.

“The important part is that we had a really fast racecar,” said Smith, who finished 38th.  “We had a good first adjustment there, but went just a little too far with it and got a little too free.  I needed one more stop and I think we would have had it dialed in, and then just chased the weather from that point on.  It’s disappointing.  It’s a good team, it’s a good car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports does a great job.  I'm looking forward to next week.”

Kurt Busch made his debut with the Furniture Row Racing team and drove to a 21st-place finish.  AJ Allmendinger, who took the wheel of the Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in his return to the Sprint Cup Series, came home 24th.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Kansas Speedway for next Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.

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