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Manteca’s Scott Speed finishes 25th on Sonoma course

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Manteca product Scott Speed on his way to a 25th place finish at Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Sonoma.

DALE BOSOWKI/Special to the Bulletin

POSTED June 25, 2012 1:51 a.m.

SONOMA — Clint Bowyer has long been considered a solid driver when it came to road courses, but he advanced to the elite level of the exclusive left-right turn road course fraternity following his commanding victory in Sunday’s 24th Annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 at picturesque Sonoma Raceway.

It was Bowyer’s first ever win on a road course and his sixth overall in 233 Sprint Cup career starts. He had four top 10 finishes in his six previous starts at Sonoma.

“I am so proud of everybody on this team for making this happen.” said Bowyer, who left Richard Childress Racing at the end of last season to drive the #55 5-Hour Energy Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) this year. “It’s huge for towards the Chase and everything else. It is just awesome.”

It was a awesome day all-around for MWR, with Brian Vickers taking fourth and Martin Truex Jr. turning in a strong run, including leading for15 laps and running in the top 10 all day until a late-race incident left him in 22nd.

But the day belonged to Bowyer who led 70 of the 112 laps. Along with a fast car he was also the recipient of some good fortune as small miscues doomed the chances of several of his challengers.

Polesitter Marcos Ambrose led the opening 11 laps of the race, but flat spotted his front tires after locking up the brakes in turn 7. He gave up the lead to Vallejo native Jeff Gordon and was never a serious contender for the remainder of the race, coming home eighth.

Bowyer blew by Gordon on lap 25 and stayed at or near the front for the reminder of the race, only losing the lead due to routine pit stops.

Gordon, looking for his sixth victory at Sonoma, would later see his chances for a victory vanish when he stretched his fuel one lap two far and ran out heading into the pits for his final stop on lap 72. Luckily he was able to coast to his pit stall and recovered to finish in sixth, right behind his teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Defending race winner Kurt Busch, in the unsponsored #51 Phoenix Racing car, turned in a strong performance and looked to be in position to steal the win. Busch was all over Bowyer’s rear bumper with 8 laps remaining only to clip the tire barrier in the turn 11 hairpin. He was able to stay out but the impact to messed  up the car’s handling.

Busch got a final shot at taking the win away when caution flew with four laps remaining. Although he restarted along side of Bowyer, the damage was too severe for him to mount any type challenge during the green/white/checker two lap overtime finale and that opened the door for defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart to take over second.

“Got it by default there, to a certain degree. Once we got by Busch we weren’t quite close enough to get to Clint before the race ended,” said Stewart, who finished in the runner up spot for the second consecutive week. “I think I could have gotten him if I had another lap or two though.”

“I could have won a lot of races too if somebody wasn’t ahead of me,” responded Bowyer with a laugh when told of Stewart’s comment.

Busch held on for third and was emotional afterward

“It’s an amazing day, when you can do what we did,” said Busch, who missed the Cup race at Pocono earlier this month after being suspended by NASCAR for verbally abusing a media reporter. “I’m a little choked up because we were in position and I made a mistake, I got into those tires in Turn 11. If I can get my head on straight here, and after the race, then I could be able to race every weekend and go for victories.”

The race also set a record for civility with only two cautions coming out for relatively minor incidents - the fewest in track history for the Sprint Cup

Other notable finishers included Kevin Harvick in 16th, Kurt Busch in 17th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 23rd and Manteca’s Scott Speed in 25th.

“We had some back luck at the beginning when a plug wire fall off and it cost us a lap to come in and get it fixed,” explained Speed. “We had to scratch and claw after that to get what we could out of it.”

Speed saw a silver lining for his Leavine Family Racing team, which had not finished a race in its five previous starts this season.

“It was a good step for our team. We got a top 25 under our belt and take that forward with us,” said Speed. “We were competitive and we ran top 15 speeds all weekend so hopefully some good things will start coming our way.”

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