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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)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Taxslayer.com Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 DOW Chevrolet, Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet, Brian Vickers, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Nature`s Bakery Chevrolet, practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the series championship and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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