|Bowyer's Back In The Picture|
Midway through The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Clint Bowyer has clawed his back into the picture, although he’s still a longshot at best, trailing Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Jimmy Johnson.
Charlotte was a fuel economy race as it often is, but that didn’t stop Bowyer from going for it. While Keselowski and his Penske team mishandled the situation for the first time this year and Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson all held back a little bit at the end to conserve fuel, Bowyer took a bigger gamble, just ran that little bit harder and as a result, won the race.
For much of the night Keselowski, Hamlin and Johnson ran one-two-three. Keselowski, whose charmed life early in the year may be catching up with him, dominated the race, leading more than a third of the laps before running out of gas while trying to stretch his fuel mileage one more lap so he would make only one last stop. He never recovered, finishing a lap down in 11th and seeing his points lead cut in half. Hamlin and Johnson made an extra stop for fuel and still slowed near the end, allowing Bowyer to race to the win.
And that’s one thing Bowyer has going for him. While Keselowski, Hamlin and Johnson are running not to lose points, Bowyer is racing for max points.
“We're going for trophies” acknowledged Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie. “That's the only way you're going to beat the 2, the 48 and the 11. That mid-pack 4th, 5th and 6th in points were gapped a little bit from the leaders, so you had to do something special to get back into it, and this definitely helps.
Next up is Kansas. Bowyer considers it his home track, although he’s never done all that well there. In contrast, the last three winners at Kansas were Keselowski, Hamlin and Johnson. The track has been repaved and reconfigured, so it will be interesting to see what the track has to offer.
“To be back in victory lane, new life, new hope going into Kansas, there’s a lot of races left. There's a couple short tracks, Kansas -- nobody really knows what to expect there. It's a repave. You know these cars that are running on these mile-and-a-halfs are going to be fast there, but you don't know if somebody is going to stub their toe, if somebody is going to struggle if it comes down to fuel mileage. All's it would have took for one of those three cars to be in the situation that I was in, stretch it out, run out of gas, that opens the door up for everybody.
Hamlin still has some of his best tracks ahead of him, including the upcoming Martinsville race, but he’s also done well at Texas, Phoenix (winning the race last year) and Homestead.
It will be interesting to see how Keselowski and team respond. There appears to have been some confusion on what lap Keselowski was supposed to pit and just what happened to run them out of fuel. Things have gone their way most of the year and we’ll see how they react under adversity.
And then there's Johnson. Five-time. Hard to bet against him.