NASCAR Sonoma Notebook: First Top Five Of 2015 Of Little Consolation For Clint Bowyer

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Clint Bowyer pits during the Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clint Bowyer pits during the Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

SONOMA, Calif. – Despite scoring his first top five of the 2015 season—and the first for Michael Waltrip Racing—in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Clint Bowyer was all but disconsolate as he took the dais as the third-place finisher at the 1.99-mile road course.

The solid run was all well and good, but Bowyer had seen his winning chances, not to mention a possible berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup disappear in Turns 2 and 3 after the final restart, when contact with Matt Kenseth’s Toyota impeded Bowyer and gave eventual race winner Kyle Busch the opening he needed.

“Everybody went high into my groove and opened it up for him, and he drove right into it and went on,” Bowyer said of Busch’s charge to the front. “He had the right line, and unfortunately I didn’t. It just didn’t work out for me. He beat me to the punch line, beat me to the lead, and the rest was history.”

Bowyer was on new tires after a late pit stop, and Kenseth had stayed out on old rubber. With seven laps left when the race restarted, Bowyer felt he had to try to bull his way to the front.

“We were on tires there, and you knew there was going to be some of them that stayed out, and unfortunately I was kind of on that outside line, and my only chance was to just try to hammer my way up through them,” Bowyer said. “And then Kyle was able to sneak up on the inside of them and kind of beat me to the punch line and went on to win the race.

“You hate to be in that situation. You’ve got to get rough, you’ve got to get aggressive. Matt and I got hooked up and about gave away our whole day there. It just turned me right, and damn near wrecked. Obviously, when you come out here, we’ve won before, we’ve run really well here. I wanted to win really bad. Got an opportunity there and just couldn’t capitalize.”


Jimmie Johnson was 11 green-flag laps away from winning for the second time at Sonoma Raceway, but a late caution foiled the efforts of the No. 48 team.
When the left rear wheel assembly separated from Casey Mears’ Chevrolet and caromed across the infield into a chain-link fence, the resulting yellow put Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus in an impossible situation.
Johnson had no choice but to stay on the track on old tires while those pursuing him came to the pits for new rubber. Though four other cars stayed out with Johnson, the buffer between the six-time champion and the cars on new tires proved short-lived and ineffective.
Two laps after the restart, Kyle Busch passed Johnson, who fell to sixth at the finish.
“I saw there were a bunch of cars between myself and the first guy on (new) tires,” Johnson said of his assessment before the restart. “I felt pretty good about things. And then after about a lap and a half, I wasn’t feeling so good about things; they were there quickly.

“But if we came back tomorrow, we’d still run the same strategy. We played it perfectly. We were one caution away from it working out just right. So this situation we’re in with the wins (four so far this year) and being locked in the Chase, we wanted to come out and be aggressive with our strategy.”


Jeff Gordon fought a chancy setup early in Sunday’s race at Sonoma.
Then his team incurred a penalty when a crew member threw a spring rubber over the roof of the No. 24 Chevrolet—a violation of NASCAR’s rule against throwing equipment on pit road—and Gordon had to drop to the rear of the field.
Despite the adversity, Gordon restarted third with a glimmer of hope when pit strategy left him near the front of the field on old tires, but the top-five position didn’t last long at the 1.99-mile road course Gordon considers his home track.
Ultimately, the four-time champion finished 16th in his final run at Sonoma as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

“I was really optimistic going into the race,” Gordons said ruefully. “Our car was good in practice. We qualified well. They dropped the green and we were moving forward. I was pretty happy with it. I felt that rear starting to go off pretty early on and saw some guys coming from further back. And so we tried to make a couple of adjustments. It just seemed as the track continued to lay rubber, our setup, which we were taking a little bit of a gamble and risk with–but it looked good in practice–it just didn’t pay off for us.

“So, we had to make some big adjustments and lose track position. But the car was really, really good there at the end. Nothing’s going to take away from this weekend for me. I know it wasn’t the finish we all wanted, but it was a very memorable weekend. It’s still a little bit more fun to go to hang out with some of my friends and family here. But I hate that we weren’t a little bit better. And that last thing (staying out) … I was just taking some risk on that last pit stop. We didn’t have anything to lose at that point.”

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