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Showdown win brings bit of hope for Bowyer

May 16, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Qualifying for the Sprint All-Star Race will take place Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET (FS1)

CONCORD, N.C. -- With eight career victories and one runner-up finish in the Sprint Cup Series championship race, it was tough for Clint Bowyer to stomach the idea that he had to qualify to be considered an all-star at NASCAR's top level.

"It sucked," he said. "I wasn't very thrilled about being in this race, but nonetheless, that's what we deserved. We haven't run well, haven't run where we're capable of running, and it's been frustrating. But it's a humbling sport. It always has been. I'm a big boy. If this is where we are, we've got to go out there and race hard and qualify into that race and become an All‑Star."

And that's just what the Michael Waltrip Racing driver did Friday night, when he used four fresh tires to zip past Austin Dillon with 17 laps remaining, and cruise to a victory in the Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The win earned Bowyer a berth in Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race, where he will be joined by Saturday's runner-up, AJ Allmendinger, and surprise fan vote winner Josh Wise.

"Sorry we're in this deal," Bowyer told his team over the radio after clinching the victory. Without a points win since Charlotte in the fall of 2012, Bowyer did not receive an automatic berth into the main event, but raced his way in by leading 19 of the 40 laps in Friday night's qualifier.

Allmendinger, who raced his way into the All-Star event in 2008 by winning the Showdown, led 18 laps until Bowyer took control late. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver was one of several -- along with Dillon, Paul Menard and Danica Patrick -- who took two tires in the night's only pit stop, but Allmendinger was the only one to make them stand up. While Allmendinger wasn't really able to challenge Bowyer at the end, he easily outdistanced Casey Mears for the runner-up spot.

"I knew Clint was fast, but I knew we were pulling away from everybody else," Allmendinger said. "Overall, just really proud of this race team. … We'll do the same thing tomorrow, just take it step by step to make it better. And if we got a shot to win a million dollars, we're going to go for it."

Kyle Larson challenged early, but lost third gear on a restart and was never a factor again. The event's only incident unfolded when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. turned Marcos Ambrose four laps in, forcing the Richard Petty Motorsports to try and rally from the rear of the 23-driver field. Ambrose nearly made it, climbing all the way to fourth at the checkered flag, but didn't have enough car or time to get any more than that.

"I was just racing hard there with Ricky," Ambrose said. "I passed him off of (Turn) 4 and slid up the racetrack just with the loose rear end, so I defended myself into Turn 1 and I guess he didn’t like it. He’s gotten me three times now, so I’m kind of getting sick of that."

Added Stenhouse: "He got to the inside of me in (Turn) 3, so I let him go and he slipped off of 4 and I got back underneath him. Then he wanted to run me in the grass, so I kind of lifted a little bit. Then I went back to the gas and got up to the inside of him again and he wanted to run me in the grass a second time, so the third time going into 1 I just didn’t lift. He does that to everybody, so it is what it is."

For Bowyer, the night was a glimmer of hope in a trying season, one that saw him fall to 20th in points after spinning out and finishing 23rd on his home track a week ago at Kansas. Intermediate facilities like 1.5-mile Charlotte have been a particular struggle for the No. 15 team, so this week he and crew chief Brian Pattie discussed a change in approach.

"It's just been a crummy year," Bowyer said. "It's just been one of those years that's been so confusing. We've been really fast in practice, and for whatever reason, not able to back it up in the race. Last weekend was just crazy frustrating again for us. I was at the shop at lot this week, had a lot of meetings, and just kind of had a different thought process to change out approach for the race weekend."

If Friday was any indication, the results were hopeful. And there was one more bonus -- thanks to the Showdown being contested on Friday night, Bowyer will get to qualify for the All-Star Race rather than automatically start near the rear of the field.

"You got it," he said with a wry grin. "They're totally screwed."


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