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Bowyer sparkles in Sonoma wine country

"To have a nice, steady pace, and to have a smooth pit strategy for my Phoenix Racing guys, I thought I could deliver for them. We were in contention. We made it all the way to the final restart, and today with all of those long green flag runs, I thought the race would play into our favour," said Busch.

"When you show up and you're on a third of the budget and you almost bring it to victory lane, you can't say that one guy does it out here," he added. "It takes a full team effort. But I really want to deliver for my guys today, and being that close, and make one mistake, it's a tough game."

Busch was also complimentary of Bowyer's show of form at Sonoma. "Our car was a little better on longer runs than Bowyer, but he did a great job," he said. "I just kept thinking, 'He's a dirt late model racer from the Midwest, there's no way he can be able to run the road course!' But he did."

Busch was lucky that there were only a few corners to go, because a little further back Brian Vickers was also on a flier on his new tyres, easily dispatching Jimmie Johnson for fourth: if there had been a couple more laps then the on-form Vickers fresh from piloting Michael Waltrip's Le Mans Ferrari entry the previous weekend would surely have found a way past too.

That was quite a comeback for Vickers, in only his third Cup start of the year subbing for Mark Martin in the #55 after the veteran racer opted for a part-time season in 2012. Vickers had incurred a pit lane speeding penalty during the first round of pit stops and looked to have written himself out of contention, only to drive all the way back into the top four by the time the chequered flag.

"It took me a few laps to get used to it," said Vickers of his return to the cockpit of a Cup stock car. "It's been a while since I've driven a big, heavy car. I've been racing sports cars. Clearly, I'm still missing that pit limiter because I got caught speeding on pit road. I didn't see the lights. Clearly I blew through them. That really hurt us a lot. We drove all the way up to eighth and had to start back over again."

But he had managed to pull it off - no wonder that whispers of Waltrip looking at the feasibility of adding a full-time fourth car for Vickers started to gain traction in the post-race paddock.

The third MWR entry, driven on a three-stop strategy by Truex Jr., also looked set to gain a top six finish only to spin out on the final lap as a result of contact from Joey Logano, who had already previously turned his own Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Denny Hamlin at the hairpin. Truex instead finished in 22nd place by the time he recovered the car, and afterwards marched over to Logano for a discussion about what had transpired.

"I just started getting out of control and was wheel-hopping a little bit and when you start wheel-hopping these things, it's really hard to get them back under control," said Logano in his own defence. "You have to do what you have to do to keep people behind you ... You have to be the aggressor unless you're going to get dumped."

Despite being a road course specialist, Juan Montoya wasn't able to feature in the race as a result of escalating technical gremlins with the #42 that included losing the tachometer showing him his speed for the pit lane, leaving him having to judge his speed by pacing other cars. Fuel alarms and a loss of battery power would leave him five laps off the lead in 34th; his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team mate Jamie McMurray got spun at the first restart on lap 88 but still finished in 19th place.




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