CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer picked up his first win in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Saturday night, winning a fuel mileage race that ended in disaster for points leader Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski dominated Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway but ran out of gas with 58 laps remaining to blow his chance at the victory. He fell a lap down and finished 11th, and had his lead in the standings sliced in half over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
Keselowski, who has a seven-point lead over Johnson at the halfway point of the 10-race Chase, immediately gave his Penske Racing team a pep talk over the radio.
“Win some lose some guys, it’s all good,” he told them.
Keselowski, who also ran out of gas Friday night in the Nationwide Series race because of a fueling error, then asked his crew if he led the most laps Saturday night. Indeed — he led 139 of the 334 — but had little to show for his effort.
“It’s blackjack, you’re not going to win every hand,” he said. “When you got a bad deal you have to try not to have too many chips on the table.”
But Keselowski was able to see a silver lining in still finishing 11th.
“It was the worst-case scenario,” he said. “We minimized the damage as best we could.”
Denny Hamlin finished second and is third in the Chase, 15 points back, and Johnson finished third. Neither felt all that bad for Keselowski.
“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” Hamlin said.
“I don’t know how much it hurt him at the end of the day,” Johnson said. “I’ve been doing this long enough, too, when you see something happen, in your mind you’re like there’s an opportunity and before you know it, it happens to you.”
Both had to play their own fuel-saving game, especially in the closing laps. Hamlin couldn’t make a run at winner Bowyer, and Johnson said he couldn’t try to chase down Hamlin.
“We were just being really cautious and didn’t want to go out there and chase (Hamlin) and get ourselves in trouble,” Johnson said. “We’re getting really good at this fuel mileage stuff, it’s hard to get it right.”
Everyone had to keep one eye on the gas gauge starting very early in the race, and it worked out in Bowyer’s favor for his career-best third victory of the season. It also put him back in the title hunt as he moved one spot in the standings to fourth, and he’s 28 points out as he heads to his home track in Kansas.
It all comes in Bowyer’s first season with Michael Waltrip Racing and manufacturer Toyota, a partnership that’s working out far better than expected.
“Who thought in a million years I’d walk into the situation I’ve walked into?” he asked in Victory Lane.