Bowyer blocks out controversy, opens Chase with Top-10 run

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After a week in which he was grilled to a crisp with questions surrounding his role in Michael Waltrip Racing’s manipulation of the finish at Richmond International Raceway, Clint Bowyer started his 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup with a ninth-place finish last night at Chicagoland Speedway.

Bowyer’s spin with seven laps to go at Richmond eventually led to MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. initially making the Chase, but after heavy penalties from NASCAR, Truex was knocked out of the post-season. However, those same penalties did not affect Bowyer’s own Chase standing.

Since Richmond, Bowyer has felt the wrath of many fans and media members, who are upset that he wasn’t removed from the Chase and have demanded that he admit his spin was intentional. But last night at Chicagoland, he got back to business in his No. 15 MWR Toyota, which must have felt like a sanctuary to him.

Bowyer had a sub-par qualifying session and started 24th, but quickly made his way up the pylon in what we’ll call the afternoon session of the GEICO 400. He moved into the Top 10 by the time rain began to fall once more upon the 1.5-mile oval at Lap 107.

The red flag then emerged at Lap 110, and stayed in effect for more than five hours before the race restarted under the lights. The cooler conditions – as well as a rash of cautions and restarts – had an initially negative effect on Bowyer’s machine, but he worked his way back into the Top 10 and was able to get past Ryan Newman with two laps left for his final result of ninth.

“The PEAK Antifreeze Toyota was pretty good tonight, but we struggled on restarts,” Bowyer said. “In the second half of the race, there were a lot of restarts. But ninth place isn’t too bad.

“We need single-digit finishes for ten weeks, so tonight was a good start. We’ll be better next week in New Hampshire. I love that place and we’ve won there before.”

Bowyer has won twice at the “Magic Mile,” but finished just 13th there this past summer after he was forced to pit late due to a rear tire going flat.

F1 Paddock Pass: United States Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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As Lewis Hamilton took another step towards his fourth Formula 1 World Championship Sunday at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, plenty of other topics of discussion emerged in the wake of Round 17 of the season from Austin.

Hamilton’s win came as his Mercedes AMG Petronas team claimed its fourth consecutive Constructor’s Championship, Scuderia Ferrari came up short once again despite a valiant effort in second and third, and Max Verstappen’s penalty after the race was the major talking point.

Elsewhere Valtteri Bottas struggled again, the Sahara Force India twins continued to pick up points, Carlos Sainz Jr. made a major positive impact in his first start with Renault, Brendon Hartley impressed on debut at Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean and Haas F1 Team endured a tough weekend on Haas’ home soil.

Check out all the recap from the latest USGP in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, below.