Charlotte NASCAR: Clint Bowyer wins on fuel mileage

Clint Bowyer claimed his third NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season in a fuel-mileage finish on Saturday night at Charlotte

Charlotte NASCAR: Clint Bowyer wins on fuel mileage

The Michael Waltrip Racing driver got back in the championship picture with a calculated drive that saw him stretch his fuel further than his rivals, exactly as he did at Richmond where he had claimed his most recent victory just before the Chase started.

Having pitted for the last time, Bowyer picked up the lead with 25 laps remaining but then saw his gap consistently reduced by Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who applied pressure in the closing laps, eventually finishing less than half a second behind him.

Hamlin was followed in a distant third place by Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson. Both men cut into Brad Keselowski's Chase lead as the Penske driver finished outside the top 10 for the first time during the play-off, crossing the line in 11th.

Hamlin and Johnson took advantage of the final caution, 110 laps from the end, to top up with fuel again while Keselowski stayed out to keep the lead that was his for 139 of the race's 334 laps.

Without any further chances to save fuel behind the pace car, Keselowski was forced to try to make up for the fuel deficit on the track while retaining the lead. He eventually ran dry and then had a lengthy stop, after which he was unable to come back to contention.

Bowyer's win allowed him to move back up to fourth in the points, 28 behind Keselowski as the Chase tightens entering its final half next weekend.

"Who would have thought in a million years after making this switch, coming over to a new family and everything that was new, that we would be in Victory Lane three times and with five races left we're still in contention for the championship?" said a joyful Bowyer after running out of fuel while trying to celebrate with a burnout.

Polesitter Greg Biffle led those who needed an extra stop for fuel in the end, finishing fourth as the best Ford and moving up three places in the championship.

Hamlin's team-mate Kyle Busch, who ran a similar strategy to Biffle, was fifth while Bowyer's team-mate Mark Martin was sixth and the last car to finish on the lead lap.

In one of the best showings of the season for Toyota, six out of the top 10 finishers were Camrys, including all MWR and JGR entries. That was despite the event coming down to fuel mileage - not a Toyota strong point this season.

Reigning champion Tony Stewart bounced back from damage to the front of his Chevrolet after hitting the back of Keselowski's Dodge during the second restart, and finished 13th, albeit a lap down.

Regan Smith had a promising yet short debut for Hendrick as Dale Earnhardt Jr's stand in. He dropped out early with an engine failure while running among the top 10.

Results - 334 laps:

Pos  Driver              Team/Car                         Time/Gap
 1.  Clint Bowyer        Waltrip Toyota               3h14m01.000s
 2.  Denny Hamlin        Gibbs Toyota                     + 0.417s
 3.  Jimmie Johnson      Hendrick Chevrolet              + 15.355s
 4.  Greg Biffle         Roush Fenway Ford               + 27.280s
 5.  Kyle Busch          Gibbs Toyota                    + 29.759s
 6.  Mark Martin         Waltrip Toyota                  + 30.258s
 7.  Carl Edwards        Roush Fenway Ford                 + 1 lap
 8.  Kasey Kahne         Hendrick Chevrolet                + 1 lap
 9.  Joey Logano         Gibbs Toyota                      + 1 lap
10.  Martin Truex Jr     Waltrip Toyota                    + 1 lap
11.  Brad Keselowski     Penske Dodge                      + 1 lap
12.  Aric Almirola       Petty Ford                        + 1 lap
13.  Tony Stewart        Stewart-Haas Chevrolet            + 1 lap
14.  Matt Kenseth        Roush Fenway Ford                 + 1 lap
15.  Sam Hornish Jr      Penske Dodge                      + 1 lap
16.  Kevin Harvick       Childress Chevrolet               + 1 lap
17.  Jamie McMurray      Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet       + 1 lap
18.  Jeff Gordon         Hendrick Chevrolet               + 2 laps
19.  Juan Pablo Montoya  Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet      + 2 laps
20.  Ryan Newman         Stewart-Haas Chevrolet           + 2 laps
21.  Kurt Busch          Furniture Row Chevrolet          + 2 laps
22.  Trevor Bayne        Wood Brothers Ford               + 2 laps
23.  David Gilliland     Front Row Ford                   + 3 laps
24.  AJ Allmendinger     Phoenix Chevrolet                + 4 laps
25.  Travis Kvapil       BK Toyota                        + 4 laps
26.  Landon Cassill      BK Toyota                        + 5 laps
27.  Paul Menard         Childress Chevrolet              + 6 laps
28.  Jeff Burton         Childress Chevrolet              + 7 laps
29.  Casey Mears         Germain Ford                     + 7 laps
30.  David Reutimann     Baldwin Chevrolet                + 7 laps
31.  Michael McDowell    Parsons Ford                     + 8 laps
32.  Bobby Labonte       JTG Daugherty Toyota            + 10 laps
33.  Marcos Ambrose      Petty Ford                      + 31 laps
34.  David Ragan         Front Row Ford                  + 47 laps

Retirements:

     Ricky Stenhouse Jr  Roush Fenway Ford                190 laps
     Timmy Hill          FAS Lane Ford                    182 laps
     David Stremme       Inception Toyota                  62 laps
     Regan Smith         Hendrick Chevrolet                61 laps
     Mike Bliss          Humphrey Smith Toyota             53 laps
     Scott Speed         Leavine Ford                      50 laps
     Reed Sorenson       Humphrey Smith Toyota             32 laps
     JJ Yeley            Max Q Ford                        30 laps
     Dave Blaney         Baldwin Chevrolet                 25 laps
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