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Auto racing: Bowyer wins race, Gordon beats Busch for Chase
BY JENNA FRYER
AP AUTO RACING WRITER
RICHMOND—Clint Bowyer won the rain-delayed race at Richmond, and Jeff Gordon drove his way into the title picture by grabbing the last wild-card berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Bowyer came back from a mid-race spin to pick up his second win of the season. The Saturday night victory gave the Michael Waltrip Racing driver another three bonus points to take into the Chase.
But the night belonged to Gordon, who struggled most of the race but pulled off a big-time rally to beat Kyle Busch by three points for the final spot in the 12-driver Chase field.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically after the third and final rain delay. Busch had a firm grasp on the wild-card spot until that last shower.
Periodic rain played havoc with the pivotal race.
A steady shower soaked the track about 90 minutes before the scheduled start, and the delay prevented Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney from giving the command to start the engines. Romney was long gone when the race started almost two hours late.
Gordon, who started on the front row, struggled from the start. He was unhappy with the setup on his Chevrolet, and as he dropped through the field, he radioed his team “I’m just hanging on” to the car.
The four-time series champion went into the night needing to either win the race or outrun Busch for one of the two wild card slots into the Chase, which begins next Sunday at Chicago.
Although Gordon out-qualified Busch, Richmond was one of Busch’s best tracks and his May victory here is his only win of the season.
Busch started the race 15th but quickly worked his way into the top 10 on a night he simply needed to finish ahead of Gordon to wrap up his Chase berth.
Meanwhile, at the front of the field, pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed he was ready for a championship run. He gave the lead up to Gordon so his Hendrick Motorsports teammate could lead a lap and earn a bonus point, then claimed it back and stayed at the front of the field early in the race.
He swapped the lead several times with DennyHamlin, who came into the race hot off of consecutive wins at Bristol and Atlanta intent on locking down the top seed in the Chase.
Hamlin’s four victories are a Sprint Cup Series best.
With Hamlin leading Earnhardt and Gordon, a lap down, trying to keep Busch in sight, the rain resumed and NASCAR called a caution. It gave the drivers a chance to pit, Hamlin beat Earnhardt off pit road to maintain the lead, but NASCAR’s attempt to go back to green failed when the rain picked up in intensity.
The race was stopped 48 laps before the halfway point, the mark it becomes official, and the cars parked on pit road as the drivers waited out the rain.
Brad Keselowski thought it was a waste of time.
“Let’s race. I’m not afraid to drive in the rain,” he smiled. “We’re supposed to be good drivers, right? Let’s just do it once.”
The race then resumed under caution after a rain delay of 52 minutes.