|SOURCE: Brock Beard|
The finish, which came in Bowyer’s 377th series start, was his first of the season and first since last fall’s season finale at Homestead, 16 races ago.
Last November’s accident which ended Bowyer’s run at Homestead not only put him at the end of NASCAR’s final 43-car field before this year’s Charter system was enacted, but also was his final start with Michael Waltrip Racing. After the withdrawal of MWR’s backer Rob Kauffman, Bowyer signed to replace Tony Stewart in Stewart-Haas Racing’s #14 for 2017, following Stewart’s retirement. In the interim, Bowyer would run a single season with fellow Chevrolet team HScott Motorsports, replacing Justin Allgaier at what was the #51 team Harry Scott, Jr. acquired from Phoenix Racing.
For whatever reason or reasons, Bowyer and HScott haven’t been able to find success this season. The pair finished no better than 18th through the first seven races, then finally broke through at Bristol with their first top-ten finish, an 8th. The team improved one more spot, coming home 7th at Talladega, but continued to run near the middle of the pack. Coming into Sonoma, Bowyer sat 24th in the driver’s point standings, having improved from a season low of 35th after the second round in Atlanta. Bowyer looked for another good run on the road course, where he’d not only won in 2012, but finished outside the Top Ten only twice in ten career starts.
Bowyer began the weekend running as high as 8th in Friday’s opening practice before he settled for 20th, which was also where he ranked in Happy Hour that afternoon. The next day, he also came just short of making the cut for Round 2 of qualifying, earning the 18th spot on the grid at a speed of 94.897 mph.
Starting 40th and last on Sunday was Bowyer’s teammate Michael Annett, the third time this season he’d rolled off in that spot. Annett struggled on the road course all weekend, and only edged Cody Ware, the lone DNQ, for the second-slowest qualifying lap in the session’s final seconds. When the green flag flew, Annett’s #46 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet immediately began to lose touch with the field, along with Josh Wise in the SBC Contractors / Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet #30 for The Motorsports Group. After one lap, Annett was 12.289 seconds behind the leader and a full second behind 39th-place Wise. On Lap 6, Annett was still trailing, now 29.024 seconds off the lead, when his teammate found trouble.
Bowyer had climbed from 18th to 13th in the opening stages when his car shut off going into Turn 7 at the far end of the course. He pulled off the track, trying to get the car restarted, when smoke rolled from beneath his dashboard. Bowyer climbed out quickly, but was nauseated by the smoke and frustrated with another disappointed run, throwing his helmet into the driver’s window. While his car was towed back to the garage area, Bowyer was checked and released from the infield care center.
“No, it just shut off. I thought - the switch—” said Bowyer when asked if there was any warning. “It’s terribly frustrating. It’s my favorite race track, we’ve run really good - I’ve run really good at it. . .we’ll make sure a wire, you know, rubbing against something and it shorted out and burned up, but it’s a shame.”
Bowyer’s team attempted repairs for several minutes, but finally pulled out of the race by Lap 31.
Much like the practice and qualifying sessions that preceded it, the rest of the 110-lap race was run with few incidents. Just 10 caution-flag laps slowed the event, none of them due to crashes. 39th wasn’t settled until Lap 93, when Michael McDowell, who was 8th the opening practice and running near the middle of the pack in the race, broke a rear gear and pulled his #95 K-LOVE Radio Chevrolet off the track in the Esses. 38th went to Josh Wise, whose #30 lost a lap early, then blew an engine inside the final ten laps. Wise, McDowell, and Bowyer were the race’s only three retirees. Bowyer’s teammate Michael Annett could only climb to 36th, the lone car one lap down.
38th went to Patrick Carpentier, who on Saturday was excited to be making his first Cup start since Kansas in early 2011. “Oh, I love it,” said Carpentier of the Gen-6 car, “the CoT was like driving a bus, just really weird, really big - this one feels like a race car, the way it’s done it feels is smaller like a go-kart and I love it, I love driving these things.” His goal for the weekend was to help out the Go FAS Racing team, which had previously tabbed Boris Said to run on the road courses. “Just to get points, you know, finish the race and get some points for these guys and that’s it, you know, finish in one piece.” After the race on Sunday, Carpentier was visibly exhausted. “Oh man, it was tough. We lost the AC in the helmet at the beginning of the race. It got so hot, I couldn’t see where I was going, I thought I was gonna stop. A couple laps I just wanted to stop, I said ‘I can’t’ and I just kept going, but I couldn’t drive, I was really slow and sliding around and just surviving. Midpoint was not too bad, we had some good laps.” With 12 laps to go, Carpentier stopped for a moment in Turn 7 to let the leaders pass. He managed to finish just two laps down, the last car under power, without aid from a relief driver.
*This was the first last-place finish for Bowyer and the #15 in a Cup Series race at Sonoma.
*Bowyer was the first driver to finish last in a Cup race due to electrical issues since August 3, 2014, when Johnny Sauter’s #93 Dr. Pepper Toyota fell out after 11 laps of the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono .
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #15-Clint Bowyer / 5 laps / electrical
39) #95-Michael McDowell / 91 laps / rear gear
38) #30-Josh Wise / 97 laps / engine
37) #32-Patrick Carpentier / 108 laps / running
36) #46-Michael Annett / 109 laps / running
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Matt DiBenedetto, Reed Sorenson (3)
2nd) Josh Wise (2)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Cole Whitt (1)
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Premium Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing (3)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, The Motorsports Group (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports (1)
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Ford (1)