Monday’s STP 500 didn’t start off as the Clint Bowyer show, but for the veteran who hadn’t seen Victory Lane since October of 2012, the ninth victory of his career will be one to remember.
It had been 190 races since Bowyer last won, and for one of the big stars in the sport, the move to Stewart-Haas Racing has finally paid dividends.
Bowyer led 215 of the 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway, all of them in the final 240-lap segment to close the race and get the coveted Grandfather Clock that serves as a trophy at one of NASCAR’s most storied tracks.
“You know, to have it come here, this is a place where I have come so close to winning the Grandfather Clock,” he said of the track in Virginia on FS1 after the race. “... It was just time. It was so cool driving up here and it felt good.”
After climbing from the No. 14 Ford Fusion, Bowyer immediately turned toward the crowd and shouted for someone to give him a beer. There were plenty of fans to oblige the affable Kansan after the race was delayed a day due to big snowstorm that passed through the area Saturday.
He is also now the answer to a great trivia question, the only driver to have won at the top level in all three of the current manufacturer’s cars: Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota.
Kyle Busch finished second, and Ryan Blaney placed third.
Denny Hamlin, a five-time winner at Martinsville, dominated Stage 1 and won it, leading 103 of 130 laps. Brad Keselowski challenged Hamlin late, but lapped traffic kept him from making the pass for the lead.
Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole thanks to sitting atop the points standings after qualifying was cancelled Saturday, and he quickly bolted out to maintain the lead, but Kyle Busch, who started second, passed him on Lap 5 of 500.
Before long, Hamlin, Busch’s teammate, had taken the lead on Lap 27, and the cars started settling in for the long slog that is a Martinsville race on the .526-mile paper-clip shaped track.
Blaney dominated Stage 2, winning his first stage on a short track, by leading 121 of the 130 laps with Clint Bowyer trying to chase him down before finishing second.
Keselowski was fourth and Hamlin rounded out the top five.
When the final 240-lap stage began, Blaney was still out front after pit stops.
NASCAR now takes a week off for the Easter holiday and is back in action Sunday, April 8, at 2 p.m. ET at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval. It’s the last weekend off for the Cup series until June 17, a span of 11 races.
—K. Lee Davis, Field Level Media