Clint Bowyer may not have been the driver many predicted would win at the Toyota/Save Mart 350, but the young racer held off the pack in order to claim victory at the Sonoma road course.
Road course racing is different from the normal oval tracks many drivers associate with NASCAR, and drivers who don't have experience with the tracks don't often end up victorious. Yet Bowyer, 33, was able to pick up the surprise victory. Bowyer's background is in dirt track racing, which doesn't exactly translate to the road courses.
Although Bowyer has been in NASCAR for seven years and has picked up numerous wins, he's still a bit star struck by success. Growing up, Bowyer watched racers like Jeff Gordon dominate at Sonoma, according to NASCAR News Service. To not only share the track with Gordon, but beat him, meant a lot to the racer, who could barely believe it himself.
"I just beat him," Bowyer said of Gordon. "I'm telling you, I passed him. You have no idea for a young racer from Kansas, you don't forget stuff like that. It's just unbelievable to be able to [be] at this point in my career."
Bowyer was not the only one on the track who was surprised by the outcome of the race. Kurt Busch, who was close to passing Bowyer for the win, said he didn't expect the driver to pull through.
"I just kept thinking, 'He's a dirt late-model racer from the Midwest; there's no way he's going to be able to run the road course,'" said Busch. "And he did. He did great."
Busch, fresh off his suspension, was one of the faster cars on the track for most of the day. However, Busch hit a tire barrier late in the race and broke the panhard bar on his vehicle. The damage to the car meant it was difficult for Busch to keep the car straight, especially under braking.
With Busch's car damaged, Tony Stewart was able to charge into second place on the restart. The end of the race came down to Bowyer and Stewart dueling for the win, and many though Stewart's road course expertise would ultimately give him the win. Yet the defending champion couldn't get by Bowyer.
Bowyer's win was a moment of redemption for the rider after he was essentially fired by Richard Childress Racing last year. Bowyer signed on with Michael Waltrip Racing and has been earning himself solid finishes ever since - he's ultimately seventh in the overall point standings.
"We were close to not being around anymore just six months after we started," Waltrip told ESPN. "After all we've been through, this is really special. Thanks to Clint for taking a risk, really a leap of faith, to come join us."
The race was also the start of redemption for Busch. After numerous off-track incidents, NASCAR suspended Busch several weeks ago. Yet the racer who showed up for Sonoma appeared to have turned over a new leaf, even heading to Victory Lane to congratulate Bowyer after the race.
"For him to come to Victory Lane spoke volumes about his character," Bowyer told NASCAR News Service. "He's a champion of the sport - you can't lose sight of that. I know there have been a lot of negatives around him, but there were a hell of a lot of positives today for Kurt Busch."