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Bowyer wins rain-hit Chase line-up decider

Clint Bowyer won the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway after NASCAR just scraped in a full-distance race to decide the last spots in the 2012 Chase.
There were two huge battles going on at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night. One was the final confrontation for the remaining positions in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship; and the other was the fight to simply get a race in, as the east coast of the US was battered by waves of extreme weather that included storms and tornadoes hitting New York City and Washington DC to the north.

Chances of getting a race in at all had looked bleak for the 36 hours leading up to the start of the Federated Auto Parts 400 night race, but as the worst of the weather broke up and skirted around Richmond it was just one last deluge that hit almost exactly an hour before the scheduled start time that was the biggest obstacle to getting racing in on Saturday night.

Finally the rain cleared, the track was dried, and despite one last gasp of drizzle the race wound its way to a start at just after 9.30pm local time, two hours late and looking set to run to at least midnight. The first seven laps were run under caution as turn 4 was wet from that latest brief shower, but finally Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon saw the green and the race was properly on. Pole man Earnhardt leapt away at the flag, while initially it seemed that Jeff Gordon didn't have the same sort of pace and instead lost places to Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.

Despite early contact between Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman on lap 14 that saw Newman make one of the saves of the day, the race ran without problems through to lap 45 which is when the competition caution came out, a routine procedure after the track conditions have been affected by the likes of rain since the cars last got a run, in order for the teams to check set-up and tyre wear.

David Ragan spun on the frontstretch at the attempted restart on lap 51, forcing them to try again on lap 56: Earnhardt had the lead but Hamlin got past him in the next few laps, while Clint Bower held on to third place ahead of Jimmie Johnson who had just bested Martin Truex Jr. for fourth.

It still looked like being a bleak night for Jeff Gordon, however: he'd fallen back to 18th place by this point; he was reporting brake and handling issues, and to top things off his oil temperatures had shot up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving the car in danger of cooking itself to death. By contrast, Kyle Busch - Gordon's chief rival for the final Chase berth - was solidly in the top ten. So was Tony Stewart, who needed a solid finish of his own if he wasn't going to tumble out of a Chase spot at the final moment.

The roar of the crowd told everyone that Earnhardt was back in charge of the race on lap 85 after diving under Hamlin in turn 4, but ten laps later Hamlin returned the compliment and speeded past the #88 for the lead once again. But by now, the main focus of everyone's attention was skywards, with the rain radar telling everyone that the next weak weather front was right on top of them.

The yellows were out for rain on lap 138; after their pit stops, the cars were kept out circulating around the track to help the jet dryers trying to stop the track getting too wet, but as the field hit lap 152 and the clock ticked past 10:45pm the battle was lost and Mother Nature proved her superiority once again: the red flags were out, and the cars came on to pit road to be covered up.

It looked dangerously close to being the end of the day's racing action, and they hadn't made it to half the 400-lap distance meaning that the race would have to be resumed, if not tonight then on Sunday afternoon. No one wanted that: for one thing, the schedules packed with the first day of the new NFL season would demote NASCAR to a distant second billing in the sports news. No wonder NASCAR hung on grimly, determined to get this race back under way if at all possible.




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Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 8, 2012 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 8, 2012 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, passes Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, to take the lead and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and team owner Tony Stewart celebrate winning in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, Miss Sprint Cup Kim Coon, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, pose for a photo prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane with team owner Dale Earnhardt jr. after winning the series championship during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the series championship during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, wins the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates winning the series championship during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the series championship after the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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