Fans looking forward to smash-em, bash-em racing might have been surprised by the relative calm for most of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Sonoma. There was nothing relaxed about the finish, however.
Clint Bowyer held off hard-driving Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart for his first career victory on the Sonoma road course in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. And the fans got to see two extra laps of racing in the scheduled 110-lap race.
"To have this dirt boy from Kansas to get to Victory Lane is big, let me tell you," Bowyer said."
Busch had been rubbing bumpers in a chase with Bowyer, but broke his suspension when he hit the tire barrier in the hairpin Turn 11 with eight laps to go. Busch's hopes faded further as Stewart hunted down his wounded car.
Stewart finished second, with Busch third, Brian Vickers fourth and Jimmie Johnson fifth.
"Those tires have never been bolted down before, but they were bolted down today," Busch said. "I thought I could have caught Bowyer, maybe forced him to make a mistake, before that."
Bowyer's only tactical mistake was to run out of gas during his celebratory burnout. He still held his head high, clutching the checkered flag as he walked to the Winner's Circle for the first time this season.
"Just unbelievable at this point in my career to get with a new group of people," said Bowyer, who guided Michael Waltrip Racing to its first win since 2010. Bowyer lost his ride with Richard Childress Racing after last year and signed to drive Waltrip's No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota.
The win capped an emotional weekend for Bowyer, who was raising funds for 11-year-old Brady Bakken, who is fighting Stage 3 Lymphoma.
The win was Bowyer's sixth in 233 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts. He's finished in the top 10 five times in seven race at Sonoma in his career and was fourth last year.
"I've always done well here, always felt comfortable here," Bowyer said.
There were just two cautions in the race, the first on Lap 83. The second yellow flag came out on Lap 106, when Kyle Busch spun out in Turn 7, to bring out a green-white checkered finish.
Stewart, a Sonoma winner in 2002 and 2005, was hovering just outside the top 10 for most of the race, but worked his way through traffic for an exciting finish.
"Not having all of those cautions made it fun because you could actually race guys one-on-one a lot today," Stewart said, "versus, you know, having to worry about getting those big packs and big groups and having to worry about whether you're going to get run over or not."
Mistakes proved costly for some of the race favorites.
Polesitter Marcos Ambrose led for the first 11 laps, but locked up tires in Turn 7, allowing Jeff Gordon to dart past him for the lead. Gordon later ran into trouble when he ran out of gas heading toward his pit.
"We really missed it," said Ambrose, who finished eighth. "We missed it bad and we did good to recover and get a to-10 out of it."
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