Clint Bowyer and the rest of the Michael Waltrip Racing team have had strong runs week in and week out in the 2012 season, but they hadn’t been able to capture victory.
That is until Sunday, when Bowyer continued the strong runs with the team when he and the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came to Sonoma in California.
“To switch teams like I did, I took a huge risk,” Bowyer said about his team switch in the off season when he moved from Richard Childress Racing, a team in which he had visited victory lane five times with, to Michael Waltrip Racing, a team which had only won twice, and with the same driver.
Bowyer though, who led much of the race Sunday, didn’t have an easy time getting away with the win.
Sure he pulled away from second place Kurt Busch after the final pit stops of the day, but slowly Busch pulled closer to Bowyer.
With less than 15 laps to go, Bowyer and Busch were running one-two. Bowyer had the lead, but Busch was doing everything he could to get by Bowyer.
Going into the hairpen turn, tun 11, each lap, Busch would catch up to Bowyer, and even put his front bumper to Bowyer’s rear bumper a few times. But Busch could never get past Bowyer for the lead.
Each time Busch caught up to Bowyer, Bowyer’s crew chief kept reminding Bowyer to race the road course, and not Busch. That’s exactly waht Bowyer did too.
Then with less than five laps to go, Busch’s car seemed to give up.
Even though he was pulling away, Bowyer still had to survive one more thing, and that thing came about, due to a former teammate of Bowyer, Paul Menard.
When Menard spun with two laps left at the top of the hill, and his car stalled, the second caution of the day came out. Bowyer saw his two second lead evaporate.
On the restart, the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Busch was side-by-side with Bowyer, but by the time they got to turn 3, Bowyer had the lead and Busch would have to battle Stewart for second.
Bowyer drove on to capture his first victory at Sonoma and the sixth time of his career.
“I’m super excited,” Bowyer said about the win. “To be in victory lane, this early in the season, it’s just a dream come true.”
Bowyer had a strong car all day, but it wasn’t until lap 25 that Bowyer took the lead for the first time. The person who he took the lead from though was exciting for Bowyer.
“I passed Jeff Gordon, you don’t forget stuff like that,” Bowyer said about passing Gordon, who has won five times at Sonoma.
From then on, the only reason Bowyer would lose the lead was because of pit stops.
But when, Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr. pitted, handing the lead to Bowyer with 39 laps to go, Bowyer held on to the lead.
“We were not going to give this race away,” said Brian Pattie, Bowyer’s crew chief. “We were going to make them take it.”
This is the first time that Michael Waltrip Racing has won in 2012, but they have been close a few times. In Pocono, Mark Martin finished second after leading several laps. Earlier in the season, Truex Jr. finished second at Kansas after leading most of the laps there. All season MWR drivers have been strong just not strong enough to win, until today.
When asked why the turn around, Bowyer told reporters, “We are all just working well together.”
Rounding out the top five today were Brian Vickers in fourth and Jimmie Johnson in fifth.
Matt Kenseth still leads the points, but Greg Biffle jumped over Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second in the points.
Next week the series will travel to Kentucky Speedway.
Toyota/SaveMart 350 results:
- Clint Bowyer
- Tony Stewart
- Kurt Busch
- Brian Vickers
- Jimmie Johnson
- Jeff Gordon
- Greg Biffle
- Marcos Ambrose
- A.J. Allmendinger
- Joey Logano
- Jeff Burton
- Brad Keselowski
- Matt Kenseth
- Kasey Kahne
- Casey Mears
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Ryan Newman
- Jamie McMurray
- Paul Menard
- Carl Edwards
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Bobby Labonte
- Scott Speed
- David Gilliland
- David Ragan
- Aric Almirola
- Boris Said
- Josh Wise
- Landon Cassill
- Reagan Smith
- J.J. Yeley
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Denny Hamlin
- Travis Kvapil
- Dave Blaney
- Tomy Drissi
- Robby Gordon
- David Mayhew
- Stephen Leicht
- Chris Cook
- Joe Nemechek