Clint Bowyer took his second win of the year in a twice-interrupted regular season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond International Raceway. Meanwhile the biggest winner of the night was Jeff Gordon, who with second was able to springboard into the second wild card spot for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Gordon dispatched Kyle Busch by three points, with Busch finishing 15th. Gordon fought an awful-handling race car through the first half of the race but recovered in the second, moving on a charge to vault through the field after the second rain delay.
“I was deflated early, because I knew we had a good race car,” said Gordon, who started second. “To go backwards was so disappointing. But man that (second half) was fired up. Now we're so ready for this Chase. Man, that was so much fun at the end. They did it. Alan's (Gustafson) such a great crew chief. He kept us fired up; we were never out of it.
Race winner Bowyer spun at one point, several laps after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, but ran a fuel mileage derby for more than 100 laps to the finish to make it on fuel. Bowyer's victory lane interview featured a surprising amount of energy given the race ended just before 1:30 a.m. Eastern.
“You know, Sonoma we ran out of gas too,” Bowyer said. “Thank you to these fans. It's late at night. We went through the weather. Thank you, Juan Pablo for wrecking me, then winning me the race. It's unbelievable for the 5-Hour Energy car to win this long a race.”
Mark Martin finished third, making it two of the top three for Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas after Bowyer's win. Their teammate Martin Truex Jr. ran strongly but was unable to finish as well; a similar story occurred for the race's dominant driver Denny Hamlin, who unlike Bowyer couldn't make the distance on fuel.
“It's tough when it's that fast and dominant and we didn't make it,” said Hamlin. “Then we were just another car between us and the 18. I feel bad for our teammate in trying to make it. It was at ough day all around for JGR. We had a dominant car, but this is something we can take into the Chase. We're lightning fast.”
While Hamlin could at least take the solace of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch was the biggest loser on the night – Gordon's Chase spot came at Busch's expense.
“We missed, plain and simple,” he said. “(Gibbs said to) handle it the right way. There's no right way to handle the situation.”
Hamlin enters the Chase, which starts next week at Chicagoland Speedway, as the No. 1 seed on the strength of four victories and a total of 12 bonus points (2012 total with reset). Wins the past two weeks at Atlanta and Bristol accomplished that.
Afterwards, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski are on 2009 points, then Greg Biffle and Bowyer on 2006, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth on 2003, with Kevin Harvick, Truex, Kasey Kahne and Gordon on 2000. All four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets are in the Chase, with Michael Waltrip Racing (two Toyotas), Roush Fenway Racing (two Fords) and single cars from Stewart Haas (Chevrolet), Childress (Chevrolet), Penske (Dodge) and Gibbs (Toyota) comprising the 12 cars in this year's championship chase.
Results - 400 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 2h59m58.000s
2. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.198s
3. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 1.953s
4. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 3.163s
5. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 6.446s
6. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 10.735s
7. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 12.066s
8. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 13.043s
9. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 13.767s
10. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 17.306s
11. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 20.578s
12. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
13. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
15. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap
16. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
17. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
18. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
19. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 1 lap
20. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
21. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap
22. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps
23. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps
24. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps
25. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps
26. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 3 laps
27. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 3 laps
28. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 4 laps
29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 4 laps
30. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 4 laps
31. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 5 laps
32. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 5 laps
33. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 5 laps
34. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 7 laps
35. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 7 laps
36. Stephen Leicht Circle Sport Chevrolet + 10 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 127 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 90 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 78 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 70 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 63 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 57 laps
Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Chevrolet 57 laps