At times Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, it appeared the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 would race on into the wee hours of the morning because of a couple of weather delays lasting nearly two and a half hours. But after the rain finally ended and the smoke had cleared from an evening of hotly contested stock-car racing, Kansas City hometown favorite Clint Bowyer crossed the finish line first in his No. 15 Toyota Camry and walked away with his second win of the year.
For Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., the win provides some nice momentum and a confidence boost heading into the first round of 10 Chase for the Cup races to be stages over the next 10 weeks to determine the 2012 Sprint Cup champion. The feeling was far from the same, however, for Kansas City's other area NASCAR driver, Carl Edwards, who will miss the Chase for the first time in six seasons and only the second time in his eight seasons competing in NASCAR's highest racing level..
Edwards, a native of Columbia, Mo., has not been able to string together much of a challenge to the Chase contenders this season, with only two top-five finishes and no wins in 59 consecutive Sprint Cup Series races. Edwards needed to win at Richmond Saturday night and then hope for several other highly improbable things to happen to even have a chance at making the Chase field. He started 17th in the regular-season finale Saturday and came in only one position higher in the final race results.
Jeff Gordon may have been the biggest winner of the night, however. The four-time Sprint Cup champion, who is co-owner and a driver for Hendrick Motorsports, came in second to Bowyer at Richmond, outracing former teammate Mark Martin to the finish line. The second-place finish secured Gordon the 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the chance for his fifth Sprint Cup crown.
Kyle Busch, the younger of the two Busch brothers who compete in NASCAR and in the Sprint Cup Series, held the final Chase spot coming into Richmond. All the younger Busch needed to do on Saturday was finish the race ahead of Gordon to hold on to the final spot in the Chase.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, started 15th and worked his way into the top 10, but he encountered some pit problems late in the race and ended up 16th, one spot ahead of Edwards. In the end, Bush's 16th-place finish left him three points back of Gordon in the standings and bumped out as the final Chase qualifier, after starting out the evening 12 points better than the four-time Cup champion.
"We missed," Busch said with sharpness in his voice at the conclusion of the race. "Plain and simple."
Bowyer's rain-delayed victory at Richmond was his second win in 14 races at Richmond and the seventh Sprint Cup win in his NASCAR career.
"We had a bad race last weekend (at Atlanta, finishing 27th in the 43-car field) and had a lot of adversity we had to bounce through," Bowyer said to reporters after the race. "We were kind of bummed out as a team, as a whole, coming into this race.
"It's a good way to get things bounced back headed into this Chase," he said. "It's just unbelievable."
Bowyer sits in sixth place, in the middle of the Chase field, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway next weekend for race No. 1 of 10 in NASCAR's equivalent of what is known in other professional sports as the championship playoffs.
Denny Hamlin sits at the top of the drivers' standings as the 12 Chase for the Cup qualifiers get set for the 10-race championship that will end th2 2012 Sprint Cup Series season. Besides, Hamlin, Bowyer and Gordon, the other nine drivers that will contend for the championship are: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne
Among the team owners, Hendrick Motorsports has four cars in the Chase (Johnson, Earnhardt Jr, Kahne and Gordon), including the two wild-card qualifiers, to lead all teams. Roush-Fenway Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing have two each.
Race No. 6 in the Chase for the Cup championship round will be held at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on Oct. 21.
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