Although he might not go on to win the 2010 Sprint Cup championship, Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer showed the rest of the sport the most efficient way to put yourself in serious contention. His win on Sunday at New Hampshire broke his 88-race winless streak, but more importantly it moved him out of the 12th and final starting spot in the Chase into second place, 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Even though he led the most laps on the day, Bowyer’s final laps were made with both he and crew chief Shane Wilson holding their breath, as his Chevrolet was running on what turned out to be just enough fuel as he ran out during his post race burnout. The same couldn’t be said about Tony Stewart, who was actually leading the race as he approached the final lap, only to end up coasting his Chevrolet across the finish line in 24th place.
Both drivers last pitted on lap 208, and they knew that they were going to have to conserve fuel whenever possible if they were going to have a chance of finishing the last 92 laps. Bowyer looked as if he had to the car to beat, as the laps were winding down as he was gaining on Stewart, but trying to catch him was forcing him to use up much of his gas. He seemed content to finish second, which would have been a very good day, but the sight of Stewart slowing down on the inside of the track quickly turned the 300 laps at New Hampshire into a great day, as for the second time in his career he won the first event of the Chase.
Trying to catch Bowyer on the last lap was Denny Hamlin, the top seed entering the Chase, who spun out after having contact with Carl Edwards on lap 214. Hamlin had been running third at the time but fell back to the 22nd spot after the incident. The spin put the Joe Gibbs Racing driver on pit road later than the leaders and, with no worries about having to save fuel, he was able to charge his way back up through the field for a remarkable second-place finish.
Stewart, Bowyer and Hamlin all showed what it takes if you are going to make a serious run at the title. Stewart showed that you can’t be afraid to roll the dice and take a chance even though sometimes you are going to come up short. Bowyer and his team also decided to take that same gamble and came away with the checkered flag. Bowyer entered the race trailing by 60 points and Stewart by 50, so with just nine races remaining in the Chase both knew they had to take a shot at winning.
Hamlin, on the other hand, did what you have to do when you enter the Chase on top of the standings. Thanks to his six wins during the first 26 races of the season, he began with a 10- point lead over Jimmie Johnson who had won five races. When he spun on lap 214 he showed that both he and his team had the maturity to win the title as he came down on pit road for a flawless pit stop that gave him the car to work his way back up through the field in the closing laps.
Winning the Chase in many ways is more about the points that you left on the track each week than it is the points you actually earned. Bowyer and Hamlin were able to get every point possible out of their day and it shows in the standings. After one race Hamlin increased his lead by 25 points over second place, that is now held by Bowyer.
Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson took the biggest hit in the standings after New Hampshire as they both lost five spots. Stewart’s 24th place finished dropped him to 11th in the standings while Johnson could do no better on the day as a loose wheel forced the four-time defending series champion to a 25th place finish. Johnson now finds himself in seventh place, 92 points behind Hamlin. Johnson’s teammate Jeff Gordon finished sixth, which enabled him to move up three spots in the standings to fifth. Gordon has been rock steady this season, as his fifth-place standing does not include a win on the season. During his four championship seasons, he was known for winning races in bunches and another one of those streaks would put him in the thick of winning this season’s title.
AAA 400 (Race #2 in the Chase)
Dover International Speedway (1-mile concrete oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns)
Sept. 26, 1 p.m. TV:
MRN Defending champion: