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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)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, lead the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeffrey Earnhardt, driver of the #55 Fronius USA/Viva Auto Group Chevrolet, spins out during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #4 Energizer Chevrolet SS qualifies in sixth position Friday, February 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Clint Bowyer drives the #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota during a testing session at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 26, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finishes in fifth place, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finishes in 33rd place in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who led for 87 laps,  was involved in a multi-car incident on the last lap. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS races to a third place finish with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS who finishes in fifth place in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Percision Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, race three-wide during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
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Erik Jones, driver of the #20 GameStop/Rock Candy Toyota, Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #6 Ford EcoBoost Ford, and Landon Cassill, driver of the #01 Flex Seal Chevrolet, race three-wide during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin in the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tyler Reddick, driver of the #19 DrawTite Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, is interviewed in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Hendrick Motorsports team mates (left) Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet and (right) Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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