NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
       === Bowyer prevails in fuel-mileage battle to win at Charlotte ===
 
 Concord, NC (Sports Network) - Clint Bowyer gained ground in the Chase for the
 Sprint  Cup  championship by winning  Saturday night's  Bank of America 500 at
 Charlotte Motor Speedway.
 
 Bowyer,  who is  in  his  first season  driving  for  Michael Waltrip  Racing,
 conserved enough fuel late in the 500-mile race and then barely held off Denny
 Hamlin  at the  finish to claim his third  win of the season and the eighth of
 his Sprint Cup Series career.
 
 "Who would have thought in a million years after making this switch and coming
 over  to  a new family (MWR)  and everything that was  new that we would be in
 victory  lane three  times," Bowyer said. "Five races left, and we're still in
 contention for a championship."
 
 Brad  Keselowski,  the current points leader,  led the most laps with 139, but
 during  a round of green-flag pit stops with 60 laps remaining, Keselowski ran
 out  of fuel as he coasted onto pit road. His 22-second stop cost him valuable
 track  position. He  went from being the leader to running outside the top-10.
 His  11th-place  run marked his  worst finish up to  this point in this year's
 Chase.
 
 "It's like playing blackjack," Keselowski said. "Sometimes you're going to get
 a good deal, but you're not going to win them all. We know that. You hope that
 when  you're sitting there  with 13 that you just can't have a lot of chips in
 the pile, and we didn't. We didn't lose too much. We got 11th out of the day."
 
 Bowyer,  who  had complained about  the performance of  his car earlier in the
 race,  benefited from pit strategy as he made his last stop with 58 laps left.
 He  took the lead for good with 24 laps to go when the other frontrunners were
 forced to pit for gas.
 
 "If  you  don't have the fastest  car, you better have options," Bowyer's crew
 chief, Brian Pattie, said.
 
 Hamlin  chased down  Bowyer in the closing laps, but Bowyer crossed the finish
 line 0.4 seconds ahead of him.
 
 "It was good to have a fuel-mileage race somewhat go our way, and (crew chief)
 Darian  (Grubb) made  the gutsy call to bring  us in and lose all of our track
 position  in  the middle  of the race,  which I was  kind of frustrated with,"
 Hamlin  said. "But obviously  he knew what he was doing, and we saved the fuel
 that  we  needed. We  slowed down just  enough to finish  second. But it'll be
 interesting to see how much fuel we had left and whether we could have cut the
 reins a little bit sooner and passed (Bowyer). We just needed one more lap."
 
 Bowyer's  fuel tank went dry on his cool-down lap, preventing him from doing a
 victory burnout. His No. 15 MWR crew had to push the car into victory lane.
 
 "What a wild race," he said. "I wanted to do a burnout. Am I ever going to get
 to do a burnout?"
 
 Bowyer's  first two  wins this  season  came in  June 24  road-course race  in
 Sonoma,  Calif.  and the  regular-season-ending event on  Sept. 8 at Richmond.
 Prior  to his first win at Charlotte, Bowyer had finished no better than sixth
 in his past nine races at this 1.5-mile racetrack.
 
 "This  is my  worst racetrack,"  he admitted.  "To be  able to  come here  and
 compete  and  have cars  capable of  qualifying in the  top-five and racing up
 front, that means a lot to me."
 
 Jimmie  Johnson  finished third, while Greg  Biffle, the pole sitter, and Kyle
 Busch, who is not in this year's Chase, rounded out the top-five.
 
 "We  started  saving with double the  distance, so I  knew we were going to be
 fine,"  Johnson  said. "We were just  being really cautious. We didn't want to
 chase  (Hamlin) there  and get  ourselves into  trouble. We're  getting a  lot
 better at this fuel-mileage racing. It's a tough thing to do, and we've worked
 hard to get it right."
 
 Keselowski  remained  atop the  championship  standings,  but Johnson  trimmed
 Keselowski's lead from 14 points to seven. Hamlin trails by 15 points.
 
 Bowyer  is  now 28  points out  of the lead.  He entered  this race 40 markers
 behind.
 
 Mark  Martin,  Carl Edwards, Kasey  Kahne, a  title contender, Joey Logano and
 Martin  Truex  Jr., who is Bowyer's  teammate and also in the Chase, completed
 the top-10. Only the top-six drivers finished on the lead lap.
 
 Other  Chase drivers  and  their finishing  positions  included: Tony  Stewart
 (13th), Matt Kenseth (14th), Kevin Harvick (16th) and Jeff Gordon (18th).
 
 Regan  Smith,  who substituted for  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  in the No. 88 Hendrick
 Motorsports  Chevrolet,  suffered  engine  failure  on lap  62  and  ended  up
 finishing  38th. Earnhardt  Jr., who's  in the  Chase, sustained  a concussion
 during  last  weekend's last-lap  crash at  Talladega. He  will also miss next
 week's race at Kansas. Smith will drive the car there.
 
 "I  think the important part was is that we had a really fast race car," Smith
 said. "We had a good first adjustment there, but we went just a little too far
 with  it  and got a little  too free. We needed  one more stop, and I think we
 would  have had  it dialed in. It's disappointing. I'm looking forward to next
 week.
 
 This  was the  first Cup Series race  that either Earnhardt Jr. or his father,
 Dale  Earnhardt, was not in the starting lineup since 1979. Earnhardt Jr. fell
 to last place in the Chase standings, 86 points behind.
 
 10/14 08:12:48 ET

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