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Chase Shakeup: Bowyer Out, Martin In, Earnhardt Jr. Falls

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Clint Bowyer's face said it all.

The Richard Childress Racing driver pulled to a stop outside his team hauler and climbed from the car with an expression that told of frustration and disgust.

He hastily removed the head shields from his shoes and turned to walk away.

Sunday's 32nd-place finish at Watkins Glen was not the result Bowyer or his No. 33 wanted or needed. With a goal of finishing in the top 10 to maintain what had been a 34-point lead for the final Chase spot heading into the weekend, a "freak deal" mechanical failure ruined the afternoon.

"Unfortunate," crew chief Shane Wilson said of the trailing arm mount that ripped off the chassis. "We had a decent car today and kind of couldn't capitalize once again. It's kind of been the story of our year."

The result dropped Bowyer out of the final Chase spot and opened the door for Mark Martin, who moved up one position to 12th after finishing 19th.

Martin now leads Bowyer by 10 points with four races to go before the 12-man Chase field is set.

Though his radio chatter suggested something different, Martin said he was unaware of Bowyer's misfortune and said he preferred not to focus on the Chase.

"I was not aware of it. I didn't know about it," he said. "I was not focused on that. We have got to continue to get better. ... We need to be better again at Michigan."

Martin said the team must improve "if we want to make (the Chase) and if we want to be relevant if we do make it."

"That's what we're focused on," he said.

Martin's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 26th but seemed relieved after salvaging a midpack finish despite what he said earlier in the weekend was the worst car he'd ever had at Watkins Glen.

"We definitely made it better than it was all weekend," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. "I thought it was going to be a disaster. We were able to compete. I don't even know where I finished."

Told he finished ahead of Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr. nodded and said, "That was important, but I had some guys right on my fuckin' heels, and I'm pretty sure I lost some spots."

As it turned out, Earnhardt Jr. was correct. Despite gaining on what had been 12th place, Earnhardt Jr. dropped two spots in the standings to 16th. He is now 121 points outside the top 12.

The drivers who jumped ahead of Earnhardt Jr. were Ryan Newman (who finished 12th) and Jamie McMurray (sixth).

"We gained in the big picture," said Newman, who is 83 points behind Martin. "We're still out. ... It's still a great race for that position. There's a lot that we're racing for."

Meanwhile, 11th-place Greg Biffle stayed solidly inside the top 12 despite finishing 24th. His Roush Fenway Racing team sits 112 points ahead of 13th-place Bowyer.

That means there remains only one spot for the nearly half-dozen drivers who could conceivably make it.

Asked if the strategy changes with four races to go, crew chief Wilson said his team is basically in the same position as it was before – even if Bowyer is no longer inside the Chase.

"It's kind of the same deal," he said. "You've got to make as many points as you can. Today, we were on pace to do fine and probably make (up) some. We had a better car than the 5. We've just got to go to Michigan and do the same thing."

The current Chase bubble picture:

  • 11. Greg Biffle (+121)
  • 12. Mark Martin (+10)
  • 13. Clint Bowyer (-10)
  • 14. Ryan Newman (-83)
  • 15. Jamie McMurray (-94)
  • 16. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-121)
  • 17. Kasey Kahne (-133)
  • 18. David Reutimann (-166)