Clint Bowyer moved from 12th to second in the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup standings by squeezing the most of his No. 33 car's fuel mileage and earning his first victory of the season, second all-time at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and third of his career by 0.478 of second over Denny Hamlin.

Bowyer led a race-high 176 of 300 laps and took the lead for the final time on Lap 298 when Tony Stewart's race-leading No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing machine ran dry on fuel exiting Turn 4. With Hamlin in hot pursuit, Bowyer maintained his course and took the checkered flag. He has generated five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes this season.

"I hate it for Tony and hate win races like this, but we've lost a couple that way too, this year. It's terrible (saving fuel). You want to go. I thought I could run him (Stewart) down, but I was using so much fuel through the center of the corner I just had to back down.

"This is awesome. This race felt like back in 2007 and we did it again. The first race in the Chase couldn't have happened at a better time. We're second in points, let's go get 'em," Bowyer said.

Hamlin took his 11th top-five and 12th top-10 finish of the season by successfully rebounding from a Lap 213 spin caused when his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing car made contact with Carl Edwards' No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing car. The pit stop that followed the spin placed Hamlin in position to make a closing-laps spurt packing the freshest tires and most fuel among the top five contenders.

He maintains control of the top spot in the series standings and will enter the Sept. 26 Dover International Speedway race with a 35-point advantage on Bowyer.

"We knew (Bowyer) would run out of fuel before I would. I was going as hard as I could go. We made a run at them and we had a heck of a car making a charge. This is what we needed to do. We're strong, this team is tough," Hamlin said.

Jamie McMurray took third in the race with Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., claimed fourth and Bowyer's Chase contending teammate Kevin Harvick closed out the event fifth.

Stewart, who led 99 laps including 51 straight from Lap 247, placed a dent in his campaign to take a third career series championship with his 24th-place showing.

"We went down swinging. It's hard to lose one that way, but it's fun racing Clint like that. His was definitely the fastest car all day. I'm really proud of our guys. (Crew Chief) Darian (Grubb) kept swinging at it all day and finally, on that last set of tires, we got it halfway decent and it let us run his (Bowyer's) pace.

"I think I ran me out of fuel. I may have had to just settle for second. If you know exactly how much fuel you have to have it's a lot easier, but you never know when you're guessing. It's part of the sport, always has been. It's what makes it exciting. You never know until the last lap who's going to win.

"This is a tough way to start the Chase, but there's so much that can happen in nine races. I can promise you this team won't give up. We'll give it our best shot," Stewart said.

The only other Chase qualifiers to place in the New Hampshire top 10 were Jeff Gordon in sixth and Kyle Busch in ninth. New Hampshire finishes for the remaining Chase contenders were: Edwards 11th, Kurt Busch 13th, Jeff Burton 15th, Greg Biffle 17th, Matt Kenseth 23rd and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson 25th.

Dover race coverage will begin at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN, Motor Racing Network radio and Sirius XM Channel 128.

Story by Mike Schmaltz



~Kentucky Speedway~