Mr. Irrelevant Takes First Chase Race
Clint Bowyer came into the Chase for the Championship field seeded last, seeking respect and his first Nextel Cup win. The Emporia, Kansas native got both Sunday winning in Loudon, N.H. claiming NASCAR's first race in the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship and his first trip to Victory Lane.
"This is very different walking into Victory Lane," said Bowyer, 28. "I've never done this before."
Noticeably missing from Victory Lane was his car, which suffered a blown engine during Bowyer's victorious burnout. After starting from the pole, Bowyer dominated the field at New Hampshire leading 222 of 300 laps finishing 6.4 seconds ahead of four-time champion and two-time Kansas Speedway winner Jeff Gordon. Bowyer had never finished higher than third and had led only 196 laps in his Nextel Cup career, including 84 this season.
Odds makers had Bowyer as a 30-to-1 long shot to win the Cup Championship and being the only driver of the 12 title contenders without a win, he seemed like Mr. Irrelevant. After taking the pole and the race, there is no questioning Bowyer's relevance to the Chase.
"This proves we earned a spot and we're here for a reason and I'm just so happy to be a part of the Chase," Bowyer said. "It's such a neat deal and, hey, this is the Nextel Cup, baby."
NASCAR's scoring system rewards consistency, Bowyer being the poster-boy for that model earned his spot in the Chase with 12 top-10 finishes this season. Bowyer's win catapulted him eight spots from 12th place to fourth. The top half of the Chase standing saw Gordon join Jimmie Johnson in first place followed by Tony Stewart (-10), Bowyer (-15), Kyle Busch (-35), Martin Truex Jr. (-40). Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 12.
With the standings already jumbled after the first race, the next stop for the Chase is Sunday's Dover 400. Nicknamed the Monster Mile, Dover is a very high-banked, concrete track that has little room for error. Earlier this season at Dover, Bowyer finished in eighth place, leading two laps in the process. Truex Jr., who is currently in sixth-place, won that race for his first career victory.