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NASCAR's Clint Bowyer hanging tough after 2nd of 10 'Chase' races

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The second race in the NASCAR Chase for the Cup went to Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing, but Kansas City hometown favorite Clint Bowyer brought the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota home fourth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, leaving the 33-year-old native of Emporia, Kan., in good position in the 12-way battle to become the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion.

Hamlin led 193 of the 300 laps at the little-over-a-mile track in Loudon, N.H. in capturing his fifth win of the season, the most of any other driver in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012 and his 22nd career victory. It was his third victory in the last five races this season and his fifth Chase win all-time.

Hamlin moved up a spot, from fourth to third, in the Chase standings, and trail points’ leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished second, 2.8 seconds behind Hamlin at New Hampshire, by just seven points. It was welcome redemption for Hamlin and the No. 11 Toyota after running out of gas a week ago at Chicagoland Speedway and winding up 16th, eight spots down from where he started.

With eight more races to go in the NASCAR postseason Chase championship round, Bowyer remains in the middle of the pack, 15 points back of Johnson, who switched places in the standings with Brad Keselowski, winner of the first Chase race a week ago at Chicagoland. Instead of being in a three-way tie with Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne for fourth place, however, Bowyer is now tied with Kahne for fifth.

“We had a solid race car, (but) Denny Hamlin had a fast race car,” Bowyer said in commenting to reporters on his top-five finish at New Hampshire. “We all knew that all weekend long from the time we unloaded he (Hamlin) was the class of the field. Hats off to him. He called his shot and backed it up.”

About his Chase chances, Bowyer said: “There’s a lot of racing left. Certainly, we’re still in the thing. Just got to keep those solid finishes coming.”

After the disappointing finish in Chicago, Hamlin put himself at risk for Sunday’s race by telling his fans ahead of time via Twitter that he would win at New Hampshire. He told reporters in his post-race comments on Sunday that he used the promise as much as a way to reassure his fans that New Hampshire would provide a comeback from what happened at Chicagoland.

“I knew once we got to lap 50 (at New Hampshire) and started working our way to the sixth or seventh position…I knew we had the winning car,” Hamlin said.

Carl Edwards, from Columbia, Mo., qualified fifth at New Hampshire, but ended up 19th. This is the first season in the last six that Edwards has not qualified for the Chase.

Seven of the 12 drivers who qualified for this year’s Chase for the Cup swept the top seven positions at New Hampshire Speedway on Sunday.=

Next up for the Chase challengers, as well as the remainder of the 43-car Sprint Cup Series field will be the AAA 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday.

Here are some other highlights from this season’s second Chase race:

  • Denny Hamlin qualified 32nd for the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Only six drivers have won a Chase race after starting 30th or higher.
  • Clint Bowyer’s fourth-place finish at New Hampshire was his sixth top-ten finish in the past seven races this season.
  • For Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and the points leader after the first Chase race last week, his top-10 finish on Sunday was his 11th in the past dozen races.
  • The driver who won the second event in the Chase for the Cup has won the championship the past three seasons.
  • Hamlin’s New Hampshire victory was also the 100th for Joe Gibbs Racing.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s second-place finish was his 35th top-two finish in 82 previous Chase races.
  • A Toyota has won nine of the 28 Sprint Cup races this season.\

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