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Notebook: Bowyer's 2012 win a surprise for all

June 22, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com

Notebook: Bowyer's 2012 win a surprise for all
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver had little experience in road course racing before dominating in 2012

SONOMA, Calif. -- Last season’s upset victory at Sonoma Raceway seemed to surprise race winner Clint Bowyer just as much as anyone. His hometown of Emporia, Kan., doesn’t spring to mind as a hotbed for road-course racing, but for one day last June, it sure was.

“No, not in a million years,” Bowyer said Friday when asked if he’d ever envisioned himself in Victory Lane at a road course. “After the first couple stabs at it, I was relatively pretty good out here. I struggled a lot at Watkins Glen, but always was able to find pretty good speed and get settled in and get comfortable out here.

“Last year, in practice our car was very fast.  Even before that, we went to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) and tested, and several of what we would call ringers were there and I was every bit as fast as them, if not faster and I was like, 'What the hell is going on? I think this car is extremely fast because I know I'm not.' Then I came out here and it was still the same thing. After practice I had a pretty good feeling and I needed to get a good night's rest because I had a pretty good shot at it.”

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Turns out, Bowyer was dominant, holding off a determined Kurt Busch down the stretch last year. One area that needed work was the Victory Lane celebration, where the winner’s goblet of wine from one of the area’s many vineyards wound up cracked in the frenzy.

“They gave me a new one. Things got a little out of hand as they normally do when we win races,” Bowyer said. “It's supposed to be fun. That was definitely not on the playlist, breaking -- I didn't know it was a goblet -- that glass cup that we were using to drink wine out of. Somebody broke it, I think Michael (Waltrip) broke it, didn't he? Maybe they'll give us a plastic one this year.”

Hamlin happy with repairs

Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota sported a patched-up rear bumper during Saturday’s qualifying. His Joe Gibbs Racing crew worked frantically to repair his primary car after his off-course excursion into the Turn 10 tire barrier during Friday’s final practice.

"They did an amazing job fixing it. Obviously, with the damage that we had, it was looking like a backup car. But, they did a good job putting it back together and really were able to get me out there for laps at the end of practice yesterday. That was all hopefully beneficial and we can capitalize tomorrow for it.”

Hamlin, seeking the first road-course victory of his Sprint Cup career, will start 17th in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, TNT).

New day for Johnson

Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson was more than pleased to arrive at Sonoma Raceway this weekend, not just because of a return to his home state of California. The five-time Sprint Cup champ and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports stable were more than eager to turn the page on the previous week’s letdown at Michigan International Speedway.

Johnson and teammates Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne all experienced different forms of misfortune, a fluke collection of circumstances that Johnson chalked up to ill-natured coincidence.

“My tire issues seemed to be a little different than Kasey’s,” Johnson said. “Kasey’s blew out. Mine, I think I ran something over the way it went down. It just got soft and then went flat. The other two guys, Junior broke a motor. Nobody else did. And then Jeff got wrecked.

“It was just one of those days. We couldn’t get out of Michigan fast enough."

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