9 September 2012
Bowyer wins rain-hit Chase line-up decider
That left just five cars on the lead lap with 30 to go: Bowyer with a ten second lead over Hamlin at the front as they worked their way through the slower lapped traffic, followed by Earnhardt, Keselowski and Martin. Earnhardt had to give up his place in that pack on lap 382 for his own final pit stop when the lack of late-race cautions doomed his own fuel strategy approach, and even Hamlin's pace was faltering as he lost second spot to Mark Martin a dozen laps from the end.
Gordon's own recent pit stop had now succeeded in re-galvanising the #24, and he was making his way up through the positions finally passing Hamlin for third place moments later and then setting his sights on Mark Martin, whom he finally passed on lap 393 just seven laps from the end. That would clinch him the spot in the Chase given that Kyle Busch was mired down in 16th place still a lap off the lead, but Gordon still set his sights on making it sure by targeting the outright win at Richmond, as Bowyer slowed up ahead because of his fuel conservation requirements.
Gordon ran out of time, and crucially Bowyer did not run out of gas before the chequered flag came out: Bowyer had clinched his second win of the year, and Gordon had to be happy with second. Given that it came with a Chase place attached via the wins wildcard, that was more than he'd dared hope.
"I felt like I won the race tonight," said Gordon. "When that was over, they told me I was in the Chase, we made it, I mean, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts. To me, after you have that kind of effort, fall back, then come up there and finish second, almost win the race, make it in by one point!"
Qualifying on a wins wildcard puts him at a slight points disadvantage to the top ten drivers going into the Chase, but that didn't stop Tony Stewart winning the championship last year from the same position and Gordon had the same mindset looking ahead to the next two months' worth of races.
"You can look at this race: all the things that have gone for us this year, everything went right for us tonight," he said. "I don't see any reason why we can't go over these next 10 races and be a real threat for the championship."
As for Bowyer, the return to victory lane was the best way possible to set up some momentum heading into the ten-race Chase shootout as far as he was concerned.
"It's a good way to get things bounced back headed into this Chase," he agreed. "We had a bad race last weekend [at Atlanta] and had a lot of adversity we had to bounce through, were kind of bummed out as a team, as a whole, coming into this race."
Tongue in cheek, Bowyer even gave credit Juan Montoya for their mid-race contact that had sent Bowyer for a spin, forcing his hand when it came to pit stop strategies and setting up the possibility of the fuel conservation run at the end: ""Thank you, Juan Pablo, for wrecking me and then winning me the race," he said. "Thank you!"
Away form victory lane, it was a different scene in the Joe Gibbs Racing area where Kyle Busch was trying to get to grips with being three points short in the standings to make the Chase over Gordon.
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