Smoke finally got his Sprint Cup win in California, while Jimmie Johnson (El Cajon) could be ready to smoke the field again for the Championship.
Tony Stewart pulled away from Johnson on a late restart to win at Auto Club Speedway after 19 attempts. Johnson may have ended the race in third place, but he left with a bigger points lead for the Championship title.
"Great day overall," Johnson said. "We certainly wanted to be in Victory Lane, but if can finish in the top three week in and week out, you're going to have a shot.
In the lead again late, Stewart did not to pit after an accident involving Kurt Busch, and he then pulled away from Johnson on the restart with two laps left. Bowyer passed Johnson, but was nowhere close to Stewart at the end, finally giving "Smoke" his Cup win in California.
"We doing everything we can," said Stewart, who moved up to fifth in the Chase, 107 points behind Johnson. "We're going to need some help, but we're doing everything we can do. I'm proud of these guys and just so thankful."
Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield) moved up from a poor qualifying session to finish seventh and remain third in the Chase. Hamlin was eighth after starting at the back of the pack due to a new transmission. Jeff Gordon overcame a late speeding penalty on pit road to finish ninth and move up to fourth.