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Stewart runs out of fuel, Bowyer runs to the checkered

After dominating all day long, Clint Bowyer takes Sylvania 300 when Tony Stewart runs out of fuel on the last lap

CLINT BOWYER celebrates in Victory Lane after claiming the checkered flag in the Sylvania 300 Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kathy Sutherland. (click for larger version)
September 20, 2010
LOUDON — The Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship was, by all accounts, anyone's race going into Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

When the cars were put back on the haulers at the end of the day, the guy who entered Sunday at the tail end of the Chase let the rest of the drivers know that he was in it for real.

As he did three years earlier, winning the Sylvania 300 to kick off the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship, Clint Bowyer dominated the field on his way to the victory, moving from 12th in the points to second in one race.

However, Bowyer did need a little bit of help and that help came in the form of Tony Stewart, who ran out of gas heading to the white flag and holding on to the lead, allowing Bowyer, who was also on fumes, to hold off Denny Hamlin for the win.

"You hate to see that for anybody," Bowyer said of Stewart's fuel folly. "But that's racing."

Bowyer basically dominated the day at Loudon on Sunday, as he led seven different times in a race that saw 21 lead changes among eight different drivers.

With Stewart running out of gas in the final laps, Denny Hamlin charged forward through the field to grab second place, with Jamie McMurray finishing third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started in 32nd and raced all the way to fourth place and Kevin Harvick placed fifth after battling tough pit stops all day.

Hamlin and Harvick, like Bowyer, used their strong finishes to stay near the top of the Sprint Cup standings. Hamlin, who entered with the lead, maintained that lead, pulling ahead of Bowyer by 35 points. Harvick remained third, 10 points behind Bowyer.

"We just fought restarts all day," Hamlin said. "It took us half the race or three-quarters of the race, actually, to get up front to the top three or four and as soon as we got there, we got spun."

Hamlin was referring to an accident on lap 215 when he and Carl Edwards came together and spun in turn four. The FedEx Toyota driver was helped by three more cautions after that, allowing him to get back in position to make a run in the final laps.

"We clawed and scratched our way to the front all day to get in position with 80 to go to go for a win," Hamlin said, noting that the spin on lap 215 forced him to come in for fuel and tires when other cars didn't and kept him from running out of gas down the stretch.

"When I passed the 14 (Stewart) for the lead, I really thought I was going to be able to drive away," McMurray said of his pass of Stewart for the lead on lap 237. However, McMurray was able to hold on to the lead for about 10 laps before Stewart caught back up.

From the start

Brad Keselowski sat on the pole, but it didn't take long before Stewart took the lead away, as he blew by on lap two and led the next 24 laps. Yellow flag pit stops cycled the lead back around when Bobby Labonte and Scott Speed got together on the front stretch and it was Bowyer and McMurray who traded the lead numerous times over the next 50 laps.

Jeff Gordon grabbed the lead for a couple of laps, but Bowyer was back on track after green flag pit stops and led all the way through lap 147, when Carl Edwards slipped by him for a lap. Bowyer got the lead back the very next lap and held on again until lap 207, when another yellow, this one caused by Mark Martin in turn two, brought Bowyer and the rest of the field down for pit stops. This would be the last time the Richard Childress driver would hit pit road. He went 92 laps on his final tank of fuel.

Stewart and McMurray exchanged the leads shortly after the pit stops and Stewart led for 50 laps heading to the final furl of the white flag when his car dropped to the apron with the fuel gone.

"I'm not happy, that's for sure, but we went down swinging," Stewart said. "It's hard to lose that way but at the same time it was fun racing Clint like that. He was definitely the faster car and congratulations to those guys."

While Stewart fell five places in the points race, leaving Loudon 11th overall, Bowyer was looking to ride the momentum on to the next race in Dover, Del.

"It's just momentum and that was exactly what this team needed," Bowyer said. "This couldn't have come at a better time. I'm excited."

Bowyer's crew chief Shane Wilson was psyched to win in a bit of a homecoming. Wilson is a native of South Royalton, Vt.

"It's definitely a big deal," Wilson said of winning on his "home" track. "It means a lot to me."

Harvick was pleased to get out of New England with a solid finish despite not having a good car.

"We didn't have a great day today," he said. "We didn't have a great weekend honestly, and to be able to come out of here with a top five says a lot about everybody on this Shell-Pennzoil team.

Gordon finished the day in sixth place, with David Reutimann finishing seventh, Ryan Newman taking eighth, Kyle Busch finishing ninth and Sam Hornish Jr. taking 10th, meaning five of the top 10 finishers in the first race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup were not Chase competitors. Gordon and Busch were the other two Chase competitors (after Bowyer, Hamlin and Harvick.)

The points race, after Loudon had Hamlin leading, Bowyer in second, 35 points back, with Harvick, Kyle Busch, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounding out the field. Johnson had the worst finish of any of the Chase competitors, finishing 25th overall, one spot behind Stewart and two behind Kenseth. The four-time Sprint Cup champ got caught up in an accident and was not able to get back in the swing of things after running with the lead pack earlier in the race.

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