Long: A HIGH-OCTANE WIN FOR A HIGH-OCTANE DRIVER

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — He walked in and because Clint Bowyer does not do anything subtly, he announced his presence with gusto.

“HOW ‘BOUT THAT?!!!!,’’ Bowyer exclaimed Monday evening after ending a 190-race winless streak that stretched back to 2012.

Then sounding like a mix of a train whistle and a hyped concert goer, Bowyer shouted in Martinsville Speedway’s media center: “WOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Asked to grab the microphone in the media center, Bowyer proclaimed: “I DON’T EVEN NEED A DAMN MIC’’ as he held 3-year-old son Cash in his lap. “I’LL BE DAMNED!!’’

When Bowyer is excited HIS WORDS COME OUT THIS WAY. Sometimes THEY COME OUT THIS WAY even when he’s not excited. Monday, the words from the fun-loving Kansas native WERE EVEN LOUDER than when he cheered his beloved Jayhawks basketball team Sunday as they advanced to the Final Four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The only time Bowyer spoke quietly Monday was when a reporter noted how long it had been since he won. Bowyer mouthed the words no (dung).

He knows. He’s endured. He’s questioned himself.

“HELL YES,’’ he said. “YES, IT WAS PRETTY DARK FOR A FEW TIMES.’’

It’s been dark for a few years.

He finished second in the points in 2012 but saw his championship hopes all but end when he was wrecked by Jeff Gordon at Phoenix — payback for a series of events that started with Bowyer’s aggressive move at Martinsville that spring that cost Gordon and Jimmie Johnson a chance for the win.

As Bowyer sat in his wrecked car on pit road at Phoenix, he saw his team scuffle with Gordon’s team in the garage on a video screen. Bowyer sprinted to the garage, running to the back of Gordon’s hauler before he was stopped.

Since that season, Bowyer has had modest success.

He was embroiled in the Michael Waltrip Racing controversy in 2013 at Richmond after his late spin that set in motion of series of events that led to NASCAR penalizing the organization. His ride evaporated after the 2015 season when MWR closed. That left him little option but to drive for HScott Motorsports in 2016 and bide time until replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 14 the following season at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Bowyer’s first year at SHR was marked by inconsistency. He finished runner-up three times but placed 30th or worse six times. Some of the struggles came in the team’s switch of manufacturers.

“Last year we were trying to figure out how to put motors in cars to make it to the race track, and that’s not a lie,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing and the antithesis of Bowyer in how softly he can speak at times. “I mean, it was that bad when we switched over to Ford. It was a lot of things that were a lot harder than we thought they were.

“This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.’’

Stewart-Haas Racing was less than a mile from winning the Daytona 500 with Aric Almirola, which would have given the team five wins in the first six races. Kevin Harvick won three in a row and then came Bowyer’s victory.

For all the talking Bowyer did Monday, most of it came after the snow-delayed race. His radio conversations were muted. The driver known to interrupt himself mid-sentence and forget what he’s just said, was focused on staying in front during the final 114 laps he led and said little during that time.

“I WAS BUSY DAMMIT,’’ Bowyer said. “THAT’S Kyle Busch IN YOUR MIRROR. … THAT’S A HARD ONE TO KEEP IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR.’’

He did just that.

Bowyer also benefitted from the race having only one caution during the final 114 laps. Often at Martinsville, there’s a caution in the last 60-70 laps that alters race strategy, sending some drivers to pit road. The mix of drivers on fresh tires racing through the field while those on older tires attempt to fend off the challenges leads to action, accidents and anger. There was only one incident late in Monday’s race and Bowyer maintained his lead after the restart.

When the checkered flag waved, when Bowyer finally was the first to cross the finish line, he screamed on the radio. Instead of a doing a regular burnout, because this is Bowyer after all, he did perhaps the fastest burnout in the sport’s history. He charged down the backstretch while applying the brakes before throwing the car into a high-speed slide in Turns 3 and 4 and then doing doughnuts.

He then drove to the frontstretch and did more doughnuts. As smoke slowly rose, he exited the car, walked to the fence and the fans, motioned for someone to give him a beer. As he headed back to the car without a drink, he saw Cash running ahead of Bowyer’s wife and young daughter. Cash, his daddy’s son, was in full motion running toward his father. Clint ran toward him. They met and Clint whisked his son up and carried him to the car.

Never had his children seen him win. Until today.

AND IT WAS QUITE A MEMORY FOR ALL.

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NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).