By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Everyone wants the chance to spoil the party and pull off the upset in the Playoffs. Clint Bowyer just missed playing the spoiler in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Bowyer did however miss the carnage at the end of the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, scoring a top-five finish.
Bowyer marched his way up they running order throughout the entirety of the race. A last lap, last corner bump to Denny Hamlin started a chain of events that saw the frontstretch become a parking lot filled with wrecked stockcars. Bowyer somehow snuck away with a third-place finish in the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion.
Bowyer may not be in the Playoffs, but he made his presence known, fighting hard with those in the Playoffs. He often was right behind his Stewart Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick. At one point, Bowyer took advantage of Harvick’s move on fellow Ford Performance driver Ryan Blaney, swinging by Blaney for position.
Bowyer admitted that he struggled on pit road early,
“We had a fast Ford Fusion all weekend long. Our Haas Automation Ford was good. We qualified good and had a catastrophe in the pits. It seems we’ve been struggling here lately trying to get some consistency in there to say the least, but fell back and got back up through them. Then we had some more trouble and we’d gain some and lose some, gain some and lose some and we finally got there at the end.”
Bowyer slowly crept up through the field as driver after driver ran into issues. First, Joey Logano cut a left rear tire. Then contact between Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott sent Elliott spinning into the outside wall with three laps to go. This saw Bowyer climb from ninth, to seventh, and then fifth on the final restart.
Bowyer joked that his competitors could have continued to beat and bang,
“I wish they would have got into each other one more time and I just went ahead and finished the last one off if it was down to one, but it’s just a product of that situation. Those guys are racing for a lot, there’s a lot on the line and you know on a green-white-checker at a place like this all hell is gonna break loose. The only thing I can say is why we don’t race at night is beyond me here. You should definitely utilize those lights for something other than a green-white-checkered because it’s pretty damn cool under the lights.”
Despite starting inside the top-five, Bowyer struggled earlier in the race, falling to 15th at the end of Stage 1. It wasn’t until the end of Stage 2 that he returned to running inside the top-10. Bowyer finally reached the top-five for the first time since the beginning of the race with about 15 laps to go.
This was the sixth top-five finish for Bowyer this season. It is also his 13th top-10 finish of 2017. Bowyer is now just 10-points behind Logano in the battle to the best of the rest.
Now Bowyer has just three more chances to pull off the upset be a spoiler during the 2017 Playoffs.