Clint Bowyer played the fuel strategy game to perfection, sneaking in to win Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“If you’re not the fastest car here, you’ve gotta have options,” said Brian Pattie, crew chief for Bowyer.
Bowyer definitely wasn’t the fastest car, but he and his No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota team turned a solid but unremarkable top-10 car into a winner simply by saving fuel over the final green-flag stretch.
It turns out that Bowyer had enough fuel to win his first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway but barely an ounce more. While trying to perform a post-race burnout, the tank ran dry, and suddenly his Michael Waltrip Racing crew was pushing the car the length of the track back to Winner’s Circle.
“Man, am I ever going to get to do a burnout?” Bowyer asked after winning his third race this season with no fuel left in the tank. “[Pattie] told me we were good to the end, so I went ahead and took off, and it quit on my first rotation of a burnout. So we were pretty close [on fuel].”
Bowyer inherited the lead on lap 310 of 334 when many of the leaders headed to the pits, leaving just Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin on the lead lap. Hamlin was the only car within striking distance of Bowyer in the closing laps but was told to conserve fuel.
By the time Hamlin was green-lighted to stop conserving, he didn’t have enough real estate to catch Bowyer, despite charging hard in the final corners to finish second.
“It would be interesting to see how much we had left and see if we could have cut the reins a little earlier and tried to catch the 15 [Bowyer],” Hamlin said. “We just needed one more lap.”
Johnson ended up third, with Biffle and Busch rounding out the top five.
Brad Keselowski led the most laps (139), but crew chief Paul Wolfe tried to stretch the No. 2 car’s fuel window well beyond mortal limits. Keselowski ran out of fuel on lap 276 while trying to stretch his tank, shuffling him back in the field and taking him out of contention for the rest of the night. He ended up 11th but keeps the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead by seven.
“It’s like playing blackjack,” Keselowski said. “Sometimes you get a good deal, but you’re not gonna win ‘em all; you know that. And you hope that when you’re sitting there with 13, you’re not gonna have a lot of chips in the pile. We didn’t lose too much.”
BANK OF AMERICA 500 POST-RACE QUOTES:
Clint Bowyer (Winner, No. 15 5-hour Energy Benefitting Avon Foundation for Women Toyota) – “This is my worst race track. To come here and have cars capable of qualifying in the top five, and race up front, I mean, I tell you that means a lot to me. I think it speaks volumes about our team, Brian Pattie [crew chief] and everybody he has assembled around him. It makes me almost giddy. It’s so much fun to come to the race track knowing you have got cars that are capable of getting the job done. We’re still in contention for the championship. Never in a million years did I think the caution wouldn’t come out. We had too much left in the race. We were a burnout short of making it!”
Michael Waltrip (Team Owner, No. 15 5-hour Energy Benefitting Avon Foundation for Women Toyota) – “Not only did the Toyota engine run with as much power as we needed to win with; we got the fuel mileage we needed to win and had enough gas to do one of the most amazing starts to a burnout I ever saw. It really went kind of downhill from there. But to have an engine under your hood that can perform like it did, qualifying in the top five with a new track-record speed; to have that kind of speed and also have the economy it takes to race to the checkered and not have to pit late. Clint’s won three races, and he hasn’t been able to drive to victory lane yet because of getting there with just enough fuel.”
Brian Pattie (Crew Chief, No. 15 5-hour Energy Benefitting Avon Foundation for Women Toyota) – “We had a good qualifying setup for here in the spring and came back here and qualified better. We evolved our setups over the summer. We were a little too tight and burned the tires off too fast, though. We knew in practice that we might have to save gas for fuel mileage, and we worked on that some. Everyone did their part to make it work. These are a great group of guys. It’s fun to show up on Monday.”
Denny Hamlin (Second-Place Finisher – No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) – “It’s almost impossible to save fuel [when driving for a win]. It goes against everything we have learned as race car drivers. We had a good run, obviously, and put ourselves in position all day. It’s good to have a fuel mileage race go somewhat our way. Darian [crew chief Darian Grubb] made a gutsy call to bring us in [even though it meant we would] lose all of our track position in the middle of the race. Obviously, he knew what he was doing. We slowed down just enough to finish second. It’s frustrating to know whether we could have cut the reins a little sooner and tried to catch the 15 [Bowyer]. We just needed one more lap. You are just running the race backwards. Basically, you are just seeing how slow you can go and maintain your track position. It puts everyone in kind of a weird window. You have to prepare for it, and we did prepare for it a little bit better. It’s tough because I’m sitting there thinking I could go by [Bowyer] or catch him anytime I wanted. Darian is screaming at me to back off. As a race car driver, you really don’t want to save gas.”
Jimmie Johnson (Third-Place Finisher – No. 48 MyLowes Chevrolet) – “We made a bunch of circles out there tonight and made it on fuel. It’s weird running so long. There are some tracks and some conditions where that is just the game you have to play. The thing I’m excited about is we’re still learning. We don’t have the confidence that the 2 car [Keselowski] shows in some situations with how hard they can run. We finished a fuel mileage race here much better than we have done in the past. So, I feel like we are smarter racing in that department. It seemed like the three cars of the 2 [Keselowski], the 11 [Hamlin] and we were running one, two, three through a large portion of the night. With two stops to go, we saw the opportunity for long green runs and you just talk to yourself if you use too much or not enough.”
Greg Biffle (Fourth-Place Finisher, No. 16 3m/IDG Ford) – “It was too loose all night. I just didn’t want to take big enough swings at it. And then fuel mileage; we are just not in that game to go as far as those cars were going.”
Kyle Busch (Fifth-Place Finisher, No. 18 M&Ms Toyota) – “Fuel mileage played against us again. We had a really good race car barring circumstances and how they played out, but it just wasn’t there for us at the end.”