Not much of Clint Bowyer’s résumé included the details of his road-racing exploits. Only three of his first 12 road races ended with top-five finishes, but the one-time Kansas dirt-tracker turned in a dominating Sprint Cup performance in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday.
It was the first of NASCAR’s two annual events on road courses.
“I just saw Jeff Gordon sitting on a wall, and all I could think to myself was, I just beat him,” Bowyer said. “Basically I lost my ride [at Richard Childress Racing last year], and I can hardly describe how fortunate I feel and how much I think good things are ahead for Michael Waltrip Racing.”
Gordon is NASCAR’s all-time leader in road-course wins with nine.
A late caution flag gave Kurt Busch, the Sonoma winner in 2011, and Tony Stewart, a seven-time road-course winner, one last shot at Bowyer’s Toyota, but the only noteworthy event was a rousing battle that resulted in Stewart’s Chevy finishing second ahead of Busch’s.
“I didn’t expect [Bowyer] to be that strong,” Busch said. “I know Clint came from short tracks in Kansas. ... Without a doubt, I thought I could force him into a mistake.”
“No one thought he was one of the best road racers in the past,” Stewart added, “but all weekend, he had good speed. He didn’t make any mistakes.”
Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson and Gordon finished fourth through sixth, respectively.
No surprise marred the start as Marcos Ambrose seized the edge from the pole, with Gordon tracking at a safe distance. Fourth-place starter Greg Biffle managed to slip ahead of Johnson, while, back in the pack, Stewart surprised no one by picking up six positions in the first three laps.
Ambrose, who started first, finished eighth. He also won the pole a week earlier at Michigan, where he finished ninth.
A crash involving the Chevy driven by Tomy Drissi finally left NASCAR officials no choice but to slow the field for the first time on lap 82. No Sonoma race had ever gone more than 42 laps without a caution flag.
All three of Bowyer’s previous top-five finishes on road courses had been fourths at Sonoma.
“Quietly, we’ve had good runs here, and quietly it’s been one of my favorite racetracks,” Bowyer said, “but, man, I’d never had a car like this here.”
Bowyer led 71 of the 112 laps in an event extended two overtime laps by a caution period.