BROOKLYN, Mich. – When it began raining Sunday afternoon at Michigan Int’l Speedway, Clint Bowyer was the one dancing.
Bowyer was out front during the FireKeepers Casino 400 during a caution period when it began to rain shortly after the start of the second stage. The rain quickly soaked the two-mile Michigan oval, forcing NASCAR officials to declare the race official and name Bowyer the winner.
“It’s just so much fun to be in this equipment,” said Bowyer, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. “Last year was a shocker to me. It was, it was frustrating. You get this opportunity and you’re thinking boy, we’ve got’em. I’m back on the map. It just didn’t happen.
“(Greg) Zipadelli and Brett (Frood) made some personal…you know changed people around and put those pieces of the puzzle together differently this year,” Bowyer continued. “Being with the manufacturer like Ford, being with Roush Yates Engines and that horsepower under the hood, it’s just a deadly combination.”
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led two of his teammates, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, at the time the race was called. That gave the team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas a sweep of the top three positions for the first time in team history.
The driver of the No. 14 Ford was running second at the conclusion of the second stage behind his teammate Kevin Harvick. His crew, led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, made the call during the caution period to take just two tires during his pit stop.
“For the longest time I was thinking, well, we’re going to run pretty far if not the whole thing in that third segment and we’re probably going to need four tires at the end of the second stage,” explained Bugarewicz. “Then all of a sudden with four to go to the northeast this cell popped up.
“I was thinking, man, probably a lot of these leaders are going to do two just to keep the track position. They’ve got to be seeing it too,” Bugarewicz said. “So when we were coming on pit road I was 100 percent certain two tires was the right call. Then we got about three quarters of the way down pit road and I was 70 percent sure. Then we slid into our pit box and I was about 50 percent sure and by then we were leaving and it was too late. Our bed was made.”
Bugarewicz’s pit call got Bowyer off pit road first, but he wasn’t the leader, at least not right away. Kasey Kahne had stayed out, but he made his pit stop just prior to the race returning to green. That gave the lead to Bowyer, who survived a battle with Harvick to maintain the race lead.
The race only stayed under green flag conditions for a few laps. With 72 laps left in the scheduled 200-lap distance, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun to bring the caution flag back out. It wasn’t long after that pace car driver Brett Bodine began reporting rain drops on the windshield of the pace car.
On lap 133 NASCAR officials called for the red flag and shortly thereafter the race was declared official, giving Bowyer his second victory of the season.
“When he (Bugarewicz) said two tires, I was like oh man, I don’t know. Especially when I looked in the mirror and everybody took four,” Bowyer said in victory lane. “When you come out that far ahead of everybody else you know you’re on a mission for a gamble.”
Harvick led a race-high 49 laps, but had to settle for second ahead of polesitter Busch in third.
Kyle Busch ended the race in fourth while Paul Menard used pit strategy midway through the second stage to catapult himself towards the front of the field, resulting in a fifth-place finish.
Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, stage one winner Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray completed the top-10.
Kyle Larson, who was attempting to win his fourth-straight event at Michigan Int’l Speedway, spun on lap 85 coming out of turn four and fell a lap down. He was scored 28th when the race was declared official.
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