Camry driver Clint Bowyer earned his first victory of the season — as well as his first win driving a Camry — in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at the road course in Sonoma, Calif.
Bowyer led the field three times for a race-high 71 laps (of 112) to claim his first victory since joining Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) before the beginning of the 2012 season.
This is the fifth victory of the season for Camry drivers, and 44th since joining the series in 2007. Brian Vickers (fourth) also earned a top-five result in his third NSCS race of the year.
Joey Logano finished 10th at the 1.99-mile, 11-turn road course.
Other Toyota drivers in the field included Kyle Busch (17th), Martin Truex Jr. (22nd), Bobby Labonte (24th), Landon Cassill (31st), JJ Yeley (33rd), Denny Hamlin (35th), Travis Kvapil (36th), Chris Cook (42nd) and Joe Nemechek (43rd).
Five Camry drivers are in the top-15 in the unofficial NSCS driver point standings — Bowyer (seventh), Hamlin (eighth), Truex (ninth), Busch (12th) and Logano (15th).
CLINT BOWYER, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 1st Were you tight on fuel at the end of the race? “I did a pretty good burnout back there in the back and then we started to blubber back there in the back. Super excited for everybody involved to be in victory lane with this group so early in the season. It’s a dream come true. I’m very proud of all our partners, especially everybody at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). To switch teams like I did was a huge risk and a chance for me and it was obviously a chance for me to showcase my talents. I’m proud of everybody back home at the shop — thank you guys for building us real good race cars. Thank you to 5-hour ENERGY — I took one before the race and I needed it. How about them fans!”
Why is this MWR team so strong lately? “We’re working together. You know, that’s something that I’m very proud of. All these guys work together and the crew chiefs and engineering staff — everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) — that’s what it takes. All of our cars ran good today and it’s because everybody works together. I want to say hi to 11-year-old Brady (Bakken) back home. Eleven-years-old with stage three Lymphoma — hang in there buddy, we’re praying for you and this one is for you.”
What does this victory mean? “I’m proud of everybody at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) for making this happen. What a wonderful opportunity at this stage in my career to make this jump and make it work. I’m proud of everybody — Brian Pattie (crew chief) and everybody on this 5-hour ENERGY Toyota — it’s just awesome.”
How satisfying is it to get this first win with your new team? “It’s huge towards the Chase and everything else. This is big for our confidence level — this team. It’s a young organization that’s going to be in this sport a long time and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
What do you think about road courses now that you have a victory? “This is a fun race track and I had a pretty damn good car, too.”
Did you think you could hold off Kurt Busch on another restart? “I sucked so much air in, my car stalled. (Laughter) I was like, ‘Oh, no!’ Because I knew Kurt (Busch) really had a good car early and I started to get away from him but I knew there was some guys out there that took tires and I looked in the mirror and the old grizzly himself, Tony (Stewart), was one of them, and he was in third place. I knew it was going to be a tall order. But there were some things I learned on the last restart. The track is a lot slicker. After that first lap you get going, I drove off into 10 and I about drove off the racetrack, very, very slick off of 10, and it set me up into 11 and I about spun out. So I backed off a little bit and got me a little bit of lead away. And then we got back out there to turn four and the 78 (Regan Smith) was all over the track, parts everywhere, all over the racetrack getting into 7 (Robby Gordon), and I about spun out again and that green-and-white checkered, everything that’s going through your mind. You know you’re close on fuel you and know you have to keep the two champions of this sport behind you and you know you have no business leading this damn thing. And, man, I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of unknowns about the rest of it. But just unbelievable, to have a great car, I knew when we went to VIR and tested, this thing was pretty fast. Never did I think it would put me in victory lane out here but I knew it was going to be a good car for us. I think we’ll take this thing to rockets.”
MICHAEL WALTRIP, co-owner, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing What does it mean to get Clint Bowyer’s first race win with your organization? “This place just reminds me on how mightily Michael Waltrip Racing struggled when we started back in 2007. We came here and put Terry Labonte in my car just so we could be sure of making the race. Talked to Robby Gordon about driving for us and that was just five short years ago that we were here and wondering what our future was like and how we were going to survive. We probably appreciate this more than anybody ever could, because we know how close we were to just not being around any more, just six months out of our start. So to stand up there be able to cheer with Brian Pattie (crew chief) and the team and see Clint (Bowyer) take the checkered flag after all we have been through, it’s just really special. Clint told me when he joined our team, he signed his contract on a Tuesday and on Wednesday, he said, ‘Y’all do a good job off the track, but could you give me some cars I could win with?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do just that.’ I’m really proud to sit here and say that Clint drove one of our cars to victory lane. Big deal for our team.”
What does this win mean to you and your relationship with Toyota? “We are just really thankful for Toyota. They are the reason why I had a chance to have team. We got out of the gates like I said in a shaky fashion at best and they hung with us and we have pushed together as close as we can with Toyota, and also working close with Joe Gibbs Racing. So, we have a very, very positive atmosphere, a good working relationship with all of our partners so thanks to those guys for that. Thanks to Clint for the risk, taking the leap of faith and glad he’s able to be here today.”
BRIAN VICKERS, No. 55 RK Motors Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 4th How does it feel to get another top-five today? “It was a great run for us — just really happy. I haven’t had many Cup races this year, but we’ve made the most of them. Can’t thank the effort by the guys enough. They gave me a great car. It took me a few laps to get used to it. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a big, heavy car. I’ve been racing sports cars. Clearly, I’m still missing that pit limiter because I got caught speeding on pit road. I didn’t see the lights. Clearly I blew through them. That really hurt us a lot. We drove all the way up to eighth and had to start back over again. The guys never gave up. It was a good top-five for us.”
How were the back-to-back weeks of road racing driving at LeMans and Sonoma? “It was good. It was great to run LeMans and then come here to road race. I learned a lot about road racing. I kind of had to undo some of what I learned (at LeMans) to get back in these cars. It took me a couple runs to get back to the heavy car with all the horsepower. Clearly, I was missing the pit limiter because I blew through pit road speeds.”
Is this year an audition for a full-time ride next season? “I hope so. If two top-fives doesn’t do it, then I don’t know what will. I can’t take all the credit. Everyone at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) is putting great cars on the race track. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) has done a great job. All the guys have done a great job. They’ve all made it possible for me to take the RK Motors car and put it in the top-five.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 10th What happened with you and Denny Hamlin in turn 11? “When you get down in there and you’re trying to keep the car behind you, it’s just tight racing and we started to get into wheel-hopping. At that point, we were out of control. Denny (Haml in) had an upper brake anyways — still it’s tough to see a couple guys get into a couple Toyotas. You don’t mean to. Think positive about our day. I already talked to him (Denny Hamlin) and we’re going to move on.”
How do you protect your position at a road course? “At these road courses you have to be the aggressor unless you’re going to get dumped. You have to do what you have to do to keep people behind you. Obviously, you’re hoping you have enough room in front of you. I just started getti ng out of control and was wheel-hopping a little bit and when you start wheel hopping these things, it’s really hard to get them back under control. I was sideways trying to avoid Denny (Hamlin), hopefully missing him and just clipped him and sent him around. It’s a bummer — I don’t mean to — you don’t want to take anyone out and you want to race clean and race hard. When you’re running that hard with these guys and heavy race cars with this much tire wear and brake wear and all that, it’s just difficult some times.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Did the lack of cautions impact your strategy in the race? “It did for sure. For a while it looked like we were going to go green flag the whole race. I was like, ‘Holy cow, this is impressive.’ Then we had that one caution, we took tires there. I was able to pass some cars, follow the 14 (Tony Stewart) up through there to a certain point and he kept going, which was impressive. He impressed the heck out of me when I was behind him. We kind of leveled out there around eighth and stayed about there. Another caution came out and we were on the other end of it, the guys that stayed out on tires with guys on new tires behind us. I was trying to hold those guys off towards the end of the race. We came home 10th.”
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 17th
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 22nd
BOBBY LABONTE, No. 47 Clorox Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing Finishing Position: 24th
LANDON CASSILL, No. 83 Burger King Toyota Camry, BK Racing Finishing Position: 31st
JJ YELEY, No. 49 JPO Absorbents Toyota Camry, America Israel Racing Finishing Position: 33rd
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 35th
TRAVIS KVAPIL, No. 93 Burger King Toyota Camry, BK Racing Finishing Position: 36th
CHRIS COOK, No. 19 Humphrey Smith Racing LLC Toyota Camry, Humphrey Smith Racing Finishing Position: 42nd
JOE NEMECHEK, No. 87 AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota Camry, NEMCO Motorsports Finishing Position: 43rd