CONCORD, N.C. – Clint Bowyer picked up his first win in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Saturday night, winning a fuel-mileage race that ended in disaster for points leader Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski dominated Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway but ran out of gas with 58 laps remaining to blow his chance at the victory. He fell a lap down and finished 11th and had his lead in the standings sliced in half over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
Keselowski, who has a seven-point lead over Johnson at the halfway point of the 10-race Chase, immediately gave his Penske Racing team a pep talk over the radio. Win some lose some guys; its all good, he told them.
Keselowski then asked his crew if he led the most laps Saturday night. Indeed – he led 139 of the 334 – but had little to show for his effort.
Its blackjack, youre not going to win every hand, he said. When you got a bad deal you have to try not to have too many chips on the table.
But Keselowski was able to see a silver lining in still finishing 11th.
It was the worst-case scenario, he said. We minimized the damage as best we could.
Denny Hamlin finished second and is third in the Chase, 15 points back, and Johnson finished third. Neither felt all that bad for Keselowski.
Live by the sword, die by the sword, Hamlin said.
I dont know how much it hurt him at the end of the day, Johnson said. Ive been doing this long enough, too, when you see something happen, in your mind youre like theres an opportunity and before you know it, it happens to you.
Both had to play their own fuel-saving game, especially in the closing laps. Hamlin couldnt make a run at winner Bowyer, and Johnson said he couldnt try to chase down Hamlin.
We were just being really cautious and didnt want to go out there and chase (Hamlin) and get ourselves in trouble, Johnson said. Were getting really good at this fuel-mileage stuff, its hard to get it right.
Everyone had to keep one eye on the gas gauge starting early in the race, and it worked out in Bowyers favor for his career-best third victory of the season. It also put him back in the title hunt as he moved one spot in the standings to fourth, and hes 28 points out as he heads next week to his home track in Kansas.
It all comes in Bowyers first season with Michael Waltrip Racing and manufacturer Toyota, a partnership thats working out far better than expected.
Who thought in a million years Id walk into the situation Ive walked into? he asked in Victory Lane.
The race was the first since 1979 without an Earnhardt as Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out with a concussion. The announcement was made Thursday after Earnhardt sought medical attention for a lingering headache from the 25-car accident Sunday at Talladega.