Richmond, VA – Clint Bowyer overcame a mid-race spin and then conserved enough fuel in the late going to win Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The start of the 400-lap race at Richmond was delayed for 90 minutes due to rain. Another shower moved over the 0.75-mile racetrack after 152 laps were completed, forcing NASCAR to halt it for another 51 minutes. The race finally concluded at 1:23 a.m. (ET).
While Bowyer claimed his second win of the season, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon clinched the two wild card positions for the championship Chase, which begins on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway. Gordon struggled throughout most of the race with an ill-handling car but rallied in the late stages to finish second. He edged Kyle Busch for the last wild card spot by just three points. Busch finished one lap down in 16th.
Gordon's one win this season came last month at Pocono, which was shortened in length due to rain.
"Man, that was an awesome effort," said Gordon, who will make his eighth appearance in the Chase, including his seventh straight. "I'll tell you what, I'm so fired up to get this Chase started. I don't care where we start in points. We're in it."
Gordon started second and led a couple of the opening laps, but the four-time series champion fell off the pace and found himself one lap down before the race was stopped for rain. Gordon benefited from pit strategy later on and then charged through the field before passing Mark Martin for second with six laps to go.
"I knew we had a good race car, but to go backwards like that was really frustrating," Gordon added.
Gordon entered this race 12 points behind Busch, who won at Richmond in April. Busch pitted out of sequence late in the event and wound up two laps behind after his final stop.
"We missed. That's it, plain and simple," a disappointed Busch said.
Bowyer also battled back from adversity when he cut a tire and spun around on the frontstretch after Juan Pablo Montoya made contact with him on lap 235. He dropped one lap behind as well. But Bowyer gambled on fuel by making his last stop on lap 277.
Bowyer took the lead with 88 laps remaining and saved enough gas to cross the finish line 1.2 seconds ahead of Gordon. His car ran out of fuel during his victory burnout, as his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing team pushed it into victory lane.
"Thank you, Juan Pablo, for wrecking me and then winning me the race," Bowyer said.
Bowyer claimed his seventh career Sprint Cup win, including his second at Richmond. His first win here came in May 2008.
Denny Hamlin, who is Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, led 202 of the first 300 laps, but pit strategy during the final 100 laps put him out of contention to win. He finished 18th. Hamlin, though, secured the top seed in the Chase and begins with 2,012 points, which is three more than Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski. Hamlin scored four wins this season, including the past two races (Bristol and Atlanta). Johnson, Stewart and Keselowski have three victories apiece.
"That was a tough one, especially when you have a car that was very fast and dominant," Hamlin said. "I feel really bad for our teammate (Busch). I know those guys worked really hard to try and make the Chase. It was a tough day all around for JGR."
Martin finished third, while Stewart, the defending series champion, placed fourth and clinched his spot in the Chase with his ranking of 10th in points.
"It was a big deal for us tonight to make sure we stayed in the top-10 and make sure we got those bonus points and didn't lose them," Stewart said.
Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, who ended the regular season as the points leader, and Kevin Harvick completed the top-10.
Despite a 12th-place finish, Kahne grabbed the first wild card by virtue of his two wins during the regular season. All four drivers from Hendrick Motorsports -- Kahne, Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- are in the 12- member field for this year's Chase.
"It feels really good," Kahne said. "All the HMS cars are in the Chase. It's a big night for us, and I'm happy we're all in."
Earnhardt Jr. started on the pole but finished 14th.