The extra day was worth the wait.
Clint Bowyer stood in Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway on Monday, soaking up cheers, asking for a beer and relieved of a losing-streak of 190 races after winning the snow-delayed STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. His first victory in more than five years was definitely worth celebrating both for what it does to his on-track resume as well as his psyche.
“It just means everything,” Bowyer said. “To be able to get back in Victory Lane? It’s been a long damn time since I’ve been in Victory Lane. You start to second guess, question (yourself). You thought about it all the way up here.”
Bowyer not only secured his first win since the fall of 2012; he did so in dominating fashion.
He led a race-best 215 of 500 laps, a span that began when he passed Ryan Blaney on Lap 285. Bowyer maintained that spot for 100 laps and surrendered it to Kyle Busch for one trip around the .526-mile oval before regaining it for the duration of the race.
It was the ninth victory of his Cup career, though the first at Martinsville. He now has seven top-five finishes at the Paperclip, including a third-place showing during last October’s fall race. It was the fourth win in 2018 for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“We’ve come so close in the past,” Bowyer said. “We wanted to win that grandfather clock so bad.”
The race was held under Chamber of Commerce conditions that were a far cry from the snowy weather that wiped out qualifying on Saturday and pushed Sunday’s scheduled start to Monday.
Busch finished second for his fifth top-10 showing this season and 15th in 26 races at Martinsville. Busch now leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series point standings by eight points over Martin Truex, Jr., though the No. 18 team remains winless thus far this season.
“We take solace, sure (in strong finishes), Busch said. “But ultimately we’re here to win each and every week. We’re right there. We’re knocking on the door, we’re trying. But it’s not one particular thing that we can pinpoint.”
Blaney, who won the race’s second stage, led 145 laps en route to finishing third for his second top-five finish in five trips at Martinsville. Truex, racing from the pole position, came in fourth ahead of fifth-place Kevin Harvick. Denny Hamlin took 12th after leading 111 laps and winning the first stage.
The quality of the racing was nearly as flawless as the weather as only two competition caution flags were called, one more than the track record that has occurred three times (most recently in 1971).
That presented few opportunities for the field to catch Bowyer, who led more laps on Monday than in his previous 150 starts combined. During that stretch he finished second six times, including a runner-up finish at Martinsville during the 2013 spring race.
“On the way up here, it’s an hour and 10 minutes from the house,” Bowyer said. “My wife and I were just jamming to 90s country music and even got my son jamming to a couple of them. I told him this morning, ‘I’m telling you, we’re going to Victory Lane today.’ And I’ll be damned if we didn’t.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway this fall for the First Data 500, October 26-28.
The race is the first race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Playoffs.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX.
Martinsville Speedway PR/Photo Sarah Crabill/Getty Images