Bowyer, No. 33 Team Finish Sixth and Earn Chase Spot at Richmond RICHMOND, Va. -- Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet team clinched a spot in this season's Chase for the Sprint Cup after finishing sixth in the Air ...
Bowyer, No. 33 Team Finish Sixth and Earn Chase Spot at Richmond
RICHMOND, Va. -- Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet team clinched a spot in this season's Chase for the Sprint Cup after finishing sixth in the Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The 12 Chase contenders, which include all three Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup Series drivers, had their points reset to 5,000 following Saturday night's race, with 10 additional points being added to their totals for each victory they scored in the season's first 26 events. Bowyer will head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway 12th in the championship standings and 60 markers behind point leader Denny Hamlin.
The Shane Wilson-led team began the weekend by posting the fastest and 12th-fastest speeds, respectively, in Friday's dual practice sessions. The Emporia, Kan., native continued to prove the strength of the No. 33 Impala by qualifying fourth later that afternoon.
Prior to the start of Saturday's race, the No. 33 team's goal was to avoid trouble in order to clinch a berth in the Chase. However, as the race progressed, it became apparent that Bowyer's Chevrolet was fast enough to run with the leaders. In fact, the 31-year-old driver never raced outside the top six for the entire 400-lap affair.
Bowyer raced between the third and fourth positions in the opening 50 laps before making a pit stop, under the event's first caution period, on lap 58. Racing resumed one lap later and, despite battling a loose-handling condition, the two-time NSCS race winner raced his way into second seven laps later. His forward progress continued as he took hold of the lead on lap 101. Bowyer led for 10 laps before falling back to second prior to the event's second yellow flag on lap 147.
Wilson used this opportunity to bring Bowyer down pit lane, behind the leader, for tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Quick pit work by the Helping Hands over-the-wall crew allowed the Cheerios Racing driver to remain second for the lap-153 restart.
A long, green-flag run consumed the next 75 laps as Bowyer raced between the first and fourth positions. He led a total of 23 laps, on two different occasions, before rain forced NASCAR to display the third and final yellow flag on lap 227. Bowyer pitted under the ensuing caution period for four fresh Goodyear tires, fuel and another slight chassis adjustment. He would restart third, once track drying efforts were complete, on lap 241.
The adjustments assisted Bowyer in the short term as he picked off one spot on lap 244 but, as the run progressed, his handling woes worsened. The No. 33 team would make one final stab at fine tuning their Chevrolet, under green-flag conditions, on lap 236. Once the field cycled through the running order, on lap 327, the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion was scored fifth.
Bowyer managed to pick off one spot over the next 34 circuits despite battling lapped traffic. However, as the handling condition continued, Bowyer elected to fall back on the team's original plan and race conservatively. Even though he lost two positions over the final 39 laps to finish sixth, he managed to clinch a spot in the Chase for the third time in his NSCS career, and first time for primary sponsors Cheerios/Hamburger Helper, BB&T and The Hartford.
Hamlin, who led a race high 251 laps, earned his sixth victory of the season and beat his teammate Kyle Busch to the checkered flag. Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the rest of the top-five finishers. Bowyer's RCR teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton finished ninth and 13th, respectively.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"I think we had a shot at winning the race tonight, but there at the end, we were just too loose in and off. I can't say enough about Shane Wilson (crew chief) and the entire No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet team. They never give up and have dug deep these last few races to get us where we needed to be. I'm really excited to be a part of the Chase and about our chances once it starts. We're going in as the underdog, but we have a lot of momentum going into these final 10 races. If we can continue that, I think we'll be dangerous. I also think a win, like we did in 2007, is all this team is missing right now. It's just go cat go from here. We're going to go for it all and have fun.
"It's just exciting to be in the Chase and having all three RCR drivers a part of it makes it even better. If Jeff (Burton), Kevin (Harvick) and I keep doing what we've been doing all year long, we have a shot at it. Our cars are running well enough to do it and that goes back to all the hard work from everyone in the shop and at ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing). This might be the best chance RCR has had to contend for the championship since the Dale Earnhardt days."