Posted: Sunday October 14, 2012 1:27AM ; Updated: Sunday October 14, 2012 1:04PM
Dustin Long
Dustin Long>INSIDE NASCAR

Bowyer wins fuel-mileage game for third victory; more from Charlotte

Story Highlights

Leader Brad Keselowski pushed his fuel usage one lap too far, but had no regrets

Clint Bowyer is being rewarded for taking a chance to join Michael Waltrip's team

Regan Smith, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., had a tough night and finished 38th

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Clint Bowyer took the lead with 30 laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Clint Bowyer took the lead with 30 laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
David J. Griffin/Icon SMI

CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Busch bows. Carl Edwards performs a backflip. Brad Keselowski celebrates with an American Flag.

Clint Bowyer's signature move after a win?

He walks to Victory Lane.

Just as he did at Sonoma in June and Richmond last month, Clint Bowyer walked to Victory Lane Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This time he did so after running out of fuel during his burnout.

GALLERY: Sprint Cup winners of 2012

"I definitely hope to walk the next five weeks for sure,'' Bowyer said, alluding to the final five weeks of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. "You need exercise after these races. It's fun to walk to Victory Lane. That's the best walk you could ever have.''

With his stroll, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver could embrace his role as a spoiler in what some see as a three-man race for the championship. Bowyer moved to fourth in the standings and trails series leader Brad Keselowski by 28 points heading to Bowyer's home track, Kansas Speedway, this week.

Bowyer closed the gap after a gamble misfired for Keselowski, tightening the points race halfway through the title Chase.

1. Wrong Move: Brad Keselowski was leading on lap 275 and was was set to pit, but he was told by his team that if his fuel pressure looked good on the backstretch to run one more lap.

The fuel pressure looked good but Keselowski ran out of fuel exiting turn 4 and lost time coasting around the 1.5-mile speedway.

Keselowski said he had no regrets after finishing 11th -- only the second time since late June that he's placed outside the top 10.

"You win some, you lose some that way,'' Keselowski said on the radio to his team after the race. "It's all good.''

Crew chief Paul Wolfe responded: "We didn't get it but we didn't give up.''

After being told he had a seven-point lead in the title, Keselowski said on the radio: "Go get them next week. They know we're fast. That's what's fun.''

Keselowski didn't express any second thoughts afterward about the decision to stay out an extra lap that backfired.

"We're not going to put the prevent defense out there,'' he said, leaning against his car in the garage surrounded by microphones and TV cameras. "We're going to go at you, we're going to try to sack the quarterback every time. Sometimes you're going to miss and they're going to get a big payoff. We've hit them a lot and that's why we're in the points lead and we're going to keep after them.''

2. Motley Crew: A year ago, crew chief Brian Pattie was unemployed, Clint Bowyer was looking for a ride and car owner Michael Waltrip was in the process of trying to build his team into a winner.

Bowyer's third victory of the season -- and eighth of his career -- Saturday night was only part of the highlight for Waltrip, who saw his other two cars place in the top 10 with Mark Martin sixth and Martin Truex Jr. 10th.

"I don't think Clint wanted to come drive for me, but he's like, damn, I guess I got to,'' Waltrip said. "And he said, "Do you think you've got cars I can win with?' I said, "I promise. We don't yet, but we're building them and they're going to be great and you're going to be happy.'

"It was a leap of faith by Clint and by Brian.''

Said Pattie: "Twelve months ago I was sitting in a hammock texting friends of mine at the race track when I was home. It's come a long ways.''

3. Fuel-mileage fun: Fuel-mileage races have been Jimmie Johnson's weakness through the years, but he finished third in a race where he had to conserve fuel.

That helped Johnson close to within seven points of Keselowski in the point standings heading this week to Kansas Speedway.

"We don't have the confidence just yet that we see (Keselowski's team) show in some situation ... but we finished two fuel mileage races here and stretched it much further than we have in years past,'' Johnson said.

"I feel like we're becoming a stronger race team in that department.''

4. Don't forget about Denny: Denny Hamlin's runner-up finish kept him third in the season standings but he moved within 15 points of Keselowski's lead.

"We're just rewinding where we were in the points two races ago,'' Hamlin said. "You want to close the gap ... knowing that we're hitting our best race tracks later in this Chase.''

Hamlin wonders if he might have been closer to the points with a win. He might have waited too long saving fuel to make a run on Bowyer at the end.

"It'll be interesting to see how much fuel we had left and whether we could have run the reins a little bit sooner and passed (Bowyer),'' Hamlin said. "We just needed one more lap.''

5. Dale Jr. wasn't at Charlotte and his car didn't last: With Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting out the race recovering from two concussions in the last six weeks, Regan Smith was in the seat, but Smith's ride didn't last long.

Smoke filtered from the back of Smith's car less than 70 laps into the race, ending his night. He finished 38th.

"It's disappointing,'' said Smith, who was available to fill in for Earnhardt after losing his ride at Furniture Row Racing to Kurt Busch. "It's a good team, it's a good car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports does a great job.''

 
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