Bowyer questions late-race caution at Dover
June 01, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
Bowyer's finish at Dover is only his second top-five finish of 2014
"You kidding me?" Clint Bowyer asked over the radio as the yellow flag flew with six laps to go in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway. It was the end of a long day for the Cherry 5-hour Energy team.
The No. 15 Toyota Camry was the only car that came off pit road with just two fresh tires on a Lap 361 yellow flag stop, and Bowyer won the race back onto the track. He wasn't able to maintain the first-place position against Jimmie Johnson on fresh tires, but was battling his way back to take on Brad Keselowski for third position, making up time with each lap.
"I need 15 more laps of badass out of you," crew chief Brian Pattie told his driver.
And then the yellow flag flew on Lap 394 for debris in Turn 3, sending Bowyer back to fourth in the restart line once again, on two old tires.
"The strategy (of taking two tires) had us in the contingent to win the race, but unfortunately these cautions keep coming out," Bowyer said after the race.
"We've gotta figure something out. You know, that's about five or six weeks in a row that a mysterious debris caution comes out, and then, lo-and-behold, right after they throw that, wouldn’t you know it, actual debris is on the race track when they could throw it for real."
The final caution had only capped off an already tense race for Bowyer. It started with an incident with Kyle Busch on Lap 125, when the No. 18 -- going for a sweep of all three series races at Dover -- ended up in the wall and out of the race, seemingly furious at Bowyer but silent on the radio.
"Be smart here, Kyle," crew chief Dave Rogers told his driver when it appeared that Busch was going for retribution against Bowyer. As the Peanut Butter M&M's Toyota headed to the garage, teammates confirmed that the mistake was from the spotter's stand, not the driver's seat.
The blame being lifted from him, though, did not make the situation easier for Bowyer.
"We're teammates, so to speak, with the manufacturer, and it was a bad deal," Bowyer said. "Obviously, I thought I was clear, and he kind of got up there and I thought he was going to give it to me and he didn’t, and you know, ruined his day for sure and certainly didn’t help ours."
The No. 15 suffered damage to the right side, losing 20 positions while his team repaired the damage on pit road after running in the top five. By Lap 280, he was back in the top 10.
On the final restart, Bowyer found trouble once again, knocking Matt Kenseth amid the spinning tires.
"I knocked him into the wall and I was like, not another Gibbs car," he said.
The finish is only the second top-five finish of the season for his Michael Waltrip Racing team. The first, a third-place finish at Talladega, was the No. 15's only finish inside the top fifteen in the four races before Dover. It's the third time this season that Bowyer has led five or more laps in a race.
But even the fouth-place finish couldn't quell the frustration Bowyer felt at the end of the race for what he believed was an unnecessary caution. Race winner Johnson viewed the caution a bit differently, seeing it more as an opportunity for those behind him.
"Cautions at the end -- you can kind of expect them for whatever reason," he said. "And truthfully, it's an opportunity for the guy who dominated all day to make a mistake."
Unfortunately for Bowyer and second-place Keselowski, Johnson took the right line and kept his No. 48 Chevrolet out front for the remaining laps, the caution signaling a lost strategy for those who were hoping for a finish centered on fuel mileage.
"If we need to throw cautions, we need to make it a rule to where everybody can know about it and strategize around it and a guy can go have a beer in the stands or something," Bowyer said. "It's getting out of hand."