Bowyer back in title talk with win in Bank of America 500
After four races, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin had seemingly separated themselves in NASCARâs Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Not so fast, says Clint Bowyer.
As the sportâs version of a playoff completed the âfirst halfâ in its 10-race run, Bowyer and his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing team used strategy to outsmart the trio of favorites, winning the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with superior fuel mileage.
Bowyerâs third win of the season moved his team to within 28 points of Keselowski in the championship standings.
âI looked at it last week and going into this week, I still thought if one of those guys (Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin) were to stub a toe, it would really open the door for about eight of us to get right back into the championship hunt,â Bowyer said. âWith a win here, it definitely gave us new life and new hope.â
Crew chief Brian Pattie echoed the sentiment, saying that, âTwenty-eight points is achievable over the next five weeks. Itâs a lot better than 40, how we started the weekend.
âThereâs three guys youâve got to pass, not only the points. Weâll go to Kansas on Wednesday and test like hell and try to pick up our program even more than we have now because we werenât the fastest car tonight, we just had (a winning) strategy. It would be nice to win one of these things and actually drive to Victory Lane.â
Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin flexed their muscles throughout a tame eventâ leading a total of 228 of 334 lapsâthat witnessed five cautions, two of which were for debris.
But on lap 275, Keselowskiâs No. 2 Penske Racing team did something it had largely avoided the previous four weeks: It made a mistake.
While attempting to stretch a tank of fuel, the championship leaderâwho led the most laps in the event (139)âran out of gas while leading and coasted into the pits.
That opened the door for Bowyer, Johnson and Hamlin. With Keselowski mired in traffic, they went into fuel conservation mode, reasoning that, with one more full green-flag cycle left, everyone would be running on fumes as the race reached its conclusion.
And they were right. The twist, though, was that Bowyer was a forgotten soul, as the teams of Johnson and Hamlin calculated that they were the only two that would have enough in reserve to stretch one final cycle.
âWe outfoxed him,â Bowyer said of Johnsonâs crew chief, Chad Knaus. âAny time you outfox him you know youâve done a good job, especially at this racetrack.â
The miscalculations were not especially harmful to Johnson and Hamlin, though, as the latter finished second and the former third.
Even Keselowski, who managed an 11th-place showing, did not appear to be distraught. He explained that aggressiveness was what got his team here, and one shouldnât expect them to back off from that stance:
âWeâre not going to put the prevent defense out there. Weâre going to go at you and try to sack the quarterback every time. Sometimes youâre going to miss, and theyâre going to get a big payoff.
âWe have hit them a lot, thatâs why weâre in the points lead, and weâre going to keep after it.â
Fair enough. And the next stop for NASCARâs traveling circus is the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, Bowyerâs home track. And a place that has seen Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin each score a win in the seriesâ last three visits.
For those still alive with five races remaining, hope springs eternal.
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro