A day late due to snow, and with plenty of the white stuff still piled up away from the track surface, Clint Bowyer ended a winless streak dating back to 2012 Monday at Martinsville Speedway with a victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500.
Bowyer led a race high 215 of the 500 laps, more than he had in his last 159 starts combined and took the lead for the final time on a restart on lap 391 after the races fifth and final caution of the day.
“This is a place where I’ve gotten so close,” Bowyer said. “I wanted to win this grandfather clock so bad.”
Kyle Busch who ran second got within a half a second at one point, but in the end had nothing in the closing laps for Bowyer.
“There was once or twice, I probably got held up with some lap traffic, and over the entire run, I probably lost 10, 15 car lengths just by lap cars getting side by side,” Busch said. “I’m sure he could say the same thing. I only lost by five car lengths, but still, there was some times where certainly you get a little bit messed up and you mistime some lap cars, and they kind of get in your way or get side‑by‑side because they start racing or whatever. A couple times of that, but other than that, just didn’t quite have it.”
The victory was the 9th win of Bowyer’s career, the last coming at Charlotte in October nearly six years ago.
“Let me tell you something,” Bowyer said. “Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, to give this old dog a fresh chance and fresh blood with a new opportunity. Finally to get the 14 in victory lane is just a weight off the shoulders. It’s been a long time. You start to question if you can get it done or not. To have it come at this place meant a lot.”
Ryan Blaney led the second most laps of the day, 145, and seemed to be the car to beat in the middle part of the race, winning the second stage. He faded in the closing laps but was able to make a late race charge to finish third.
“It was a good showing for us, for sure,” Blaney said. “I think the track tightened up a good bit there towards the end and we just got a little bit behind. Congrats to Clint for winning that race. It was fun racing with him for a bit, but for us to come out of here and lead a bunch of laps, win a stage and run third here at Martinsville, where I usually run terrible, that says a lot about this team and the preparation that they did getting ready for this race. That’s nice to have, we just need to be a little bit better.”
Pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. only led 4 laps, and at one point fell outside the top 10. Like Blaney however, he too made a late race charge and finished fourth.
“We started off the race and we were pretty fast on the short runs,” Truex said. “Just the long run was eating us up and I couldn’t keep the rear tires at all in the long run. We had to make some really big adjustments in Stage 2 and luckily we were able to drive back through the field. And the last two runs of the race, we were really strong. Particularly, the one right before the end, right before the last caution. We were really fast that whole run. Luckily, I was able to make some gains on it there and drive through the field and get some track position at the end. Just one of those deals.”
Kevin Harvick was fifth, Joey Logano sixth, Alex Bowman seventh with AJ Allmendinger, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top 10.
Denny Hamlin who led 111 laps and won the first stage, suffered front end damage to his Toyota after a confrontation with Harvick just prior to the races final caution on lap 383. Hamlin was forced to re-pit for repairs and restarted 15th. He was only able to rally back to 12th.
“I was just bumping him back and he brake-checked me,” Hamlin said of his contact with Harvick. “I probably shouldn’t have brake-checked him in the first place. They were just some light bumps here and then slammed on the brakes here. So, classy.”
It was a relatively clean race by Martinsville standards as only one of the races four cautions was for an incident (two were for Stage endings, the first of the day for a NASCAR mandated competition caution on lap 50). Jamie McMurray, running 19th at the time, spun into the wall in Turn 2 on lap 383 after a shove from Austin Dillon. He was able to continue.
Bowyer ended the day with a high speed burnout on his cool down lap between turns 3 and 4 and a smile in victory lane.
“This place is an acquired taste,” Bowyer said. “When I first got here I was a duck out of water just like everybody else that starts here at first. I learned from Jimmie Johnson and learned from Jeff Gordon, sometimes the hard way, but nonetheless I learned over the years and finally put it to good use. To keep Kyle Busch, one of the best in the business behind you in those closing laps, the nerves were through the roof. It’s unbelievable how it all came true.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series takes a week off returning at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4th for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Live coverage will be on Fox Sports 1 starting at 2:00 p.m. ET.