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Bowyer takes victory after Junior wrecks

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

RICHMOND, Va.—Bizarre might be a good description of Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

Polesitter Denny Hamlin led a race-record number of 381 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch provided a few laps of great racing for the lead, a battle that ended with Earnhardt being spun out by Busch on Lap 398.

And that led to Clint Bowyer getting by both Earnhardt and Busch, en route to his second career win in Cup competition.

“The fastest car does not always win,” Bowyer said. “You know, you’ve got to be able to be there for the taking, at least, and we were close enough to do just that.

“It was pretty wild out there. It was bound to happen. I was watching it, and (owner Richard Childress) was on the radio saying, ‘It’s going to happen,’ and sure enough, it did happen.”

Hamlin owned the race until he had a tire go flat with the end in sight, on Lap 383.

He stopped his car on the track, and NASCAR invoked a two-lap penalty for intentionally causing a caution.

After the restart, Earnhardt and Busch battled several laps for the lead with Earnhardt taking over, much to the delight of the fans. Their cheers turned to boos a few laps later when the two drivers scraped together, and Earnhardt spun, hitting the outside wall.

That set the stage for a green, white, checker finish—with Bowyer holding off Busch for the last two laps.

“Just a bummer of a deal,” Busch said. “We were both racing hard there.”

With the crash, Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak extended to 72 races.

“I’m out there trying to win, and you saw it tonight, I came in with a wrecked race car and finished 15th,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I could have let Kyle go. He was faster and finished second or third or whatever. But I would have got a lot of bad press for that.

“As mad as I am about that situation and as much as is going to be made of it in the coming week, the real injustice is this team didn’t get what they deserved.”

While Bowyer was celebrating in victory lane, Michael Waltrip was trying to explain to NASCAR officials why he continued to push Casey Mears’ car after an accident between the two. Mears pinched Waltrip into the outside wall, causing both cars to make contact. Waltrip continued the skirmish after the cars slowed down.

It was another good performance for veteran Mark Martin, who finished third. Rounding out the top-10 were Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. Earnhardt wound up 15th. Hamlin was 24th.

Top-12 Chase contenders after 10 of 36: 1. Kyle Busch-1495, 2. Burton-1477, 3. Earnhardt-1391, 4. Bowyer-1372, 5. Harvick-1350, 6. Hamlin-1349, 7. Johnson-1318, 8. Stewart-1297, 9. Biffle-1269, 10. Edwards-1230, 11. Newman-1212, 12. Kahne-1162.

Top-10 Nationwide Series leaders after 11 of 35: 1. Bowyer-1565, 2. Edwards-1556, 3. Kyle Busch-1553, 4. Ragan-1434, 5. Bliss-1424, 6. Reutimann-1407, 7. Keselowski-1382, 8. Leffler-1342, 9. M. Wallace-1297, 10. Stremme-1177.

STEWART HELPS OUT SHEPHERD

Tony Stewart decided to help out Morgan Shepherd’s under-funded Nationwide Series team this past Friday night at Richmond.

Shepherd simply did not have the money to buy enough tires for the entire race. Tires cost around $400 each, and if a team uses 20 tires during a race, the cost would be around $8,000.

Stewart said he “just felt like doing it.”

“Morgan is a great guy,” Stewart said. “Everybody loves Morgan to death. There are a lot of people in the stands that don’t realize who Morgan Shephard is. They think he’s just some guy who drives a green race car that says ‘Racing with Jesus’ every week.

“They don’t understand that years ago he used to be one of the top guys in the Cup series. They don’t realize that he lost everything and is rebuilding everything now. It just shows there are a lot of people that care about him as a person and respect him—not only as a race-car driver, but as a human being. You can do something like that to help out. It’s worthwhile and it’s somebody that deserves the help.

“I respect guys like Morgan that still work out of their own garage and do the work themselves and still come out here and race against Childress, Gibbs and Roush every week and still go out there with the attitude that we’re going to do the best we can.”

ALL-TIME NASCAR ELITE, MARK MARTIN

Mark Martin can’t believe his career is almost over. And he’s saying exactly the same thing now that he said back in the spring—that he’s having the time of his life, running a part-time schedule as driver of DEI’s No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet.

Martin left Roush Racing at the end of 2006. He and Jack Roush had been together for 18 years, but at the age of 48, Martin said he needed some breathing room from the pressures of Cup racing and to spend more time with his family.

His 2007 season was a roller-coaster ride. He began the season employed by Ginn Racing, but in late July, Ginn Racing basically was folded into Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Martin's world changed, for the best.

“It’s exactly what I wanted to do, and it was the best decision of my life,” he said. “I'm the happiest I’ve ever been, and I couldn’t have a better life right now.”

His 35 Sprint Cup wins put him fourth on the win list among active drivers and 17th on the all-time list. He started 621 consecutive Sprint Cup races between 1988 and 2007, the fifth-longest streak in NASCAR history.

Martin’s 41 Cup poles are the fifth most in Cup history and rank fifth all-time in the Sprint Cup point standings.

Martin has started 704 Cup races, finishing inside the top 10 on 388 occasions, inside the top five 240 times and visiting winner’s circle 35 times. His 48 career wins in the Nationwide Series are a NASCAR record.

Martin’s 13 victories in IROC competition are the most ever. Martin has won a record five championships in the IROC series, including a record three straight. His strongest run of the season was three weeks ago at Phoenix. Martin led 68 laps and was the strongest car down the stretch at Phoenix but lost out on fuel mileage.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the U.S. Army team," said Martin, who shares the No. 8 DEI car with Aric Almirola. “Making the move to a new group, working with Chevy—all the changes have all been positive for me. Being able to be a part of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated is a real honor. It opens up a new challenge.

“There are things there that I will be able to do probably for a long time, based on my amount of experience that I have and all the youth that is there at the company at this time. They are great, fabulous people. They have talent in all aspects of the company—and they have welcomed me with open arms. I'm living a dream.”

Asked what was best about racing part-time, he replied, “quality time with my wife and son. That’s by far been the best. It’s just been so good. I’m not saying there hasn’t been any pressure; there has been huge pressure for me. But it’s been a drop in the bucket compared to what I’ve dealt with the past 15 years.

“Instead of dragging out and being a grind, it’s been a great year for me. I am so lucky to be driving this car, and working with these people, and doing what I love so much—when I want to do it.”

NEXT WEEK

Who will fill the legacy of the older drivers?

WEEKEND RACING

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day, and NASCAR has a policy of not racing on that day. The Nationwide and Sprint Cup teams will have Friday and Saturday night races at Darlington, S.C.

Fri., May 9, Nationwide Series Diamond Hill Plywood 200; Starting time: 7 p.m. (EST); TV: ESPN2.

Sat., May 10, Sprint Cup Dodge Challenger 200, Starting time: 7 p.m. (EST); TV: Fox; Distance: 367 laps; Defending champion: Jeff Gordon.

Racing Trivia Question: Jimmy Spencer hasn’t raced since 2006. What are his future plans?

Last Week’s Question: Jeremy Mayfield is out as the driver of the No. 70 Cup car. Who replaced him? Answer. Johnny Sauter is the new driver.

GERALD HODGES is a correspondent for the Beacon. You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@earthlink.net.