Clint Bowyer’s night begins with spinning Larson, ends with car on fire

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Going into the weekend at Richmond International Raceway, Clint Bowyer said he looked forward to putting last year’s race manipulation controversy behind him with a great result on one of his favorite tracks.

But apparently the racing gods had something different in mind for the Michael Waltrip Racing driver in tonight’s Toyota Owners 400.

On the first lap of the race, Bowyer sought to take the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson when the inside lane opened up going into Turn 1. But instead, Bowyer got into the back of Larson and spun him out, forcing him to go on a climb from the back that is currently ongoing (he was 20th at halfway).

“I didn’t mean to do that,” Bowyer said dejectedly over his team radio. “I got under him and he turned right back down.”

Bowyer would settle down and run in the Top 5 up to the Lap 40 competition yellow. But on his next green flag stint, he faded out of the Top 10 before pitting under green at Lap 95 for a tire going down.

Just four laps later, the caution came out for debris on the frontstretch, causing Bowyer to sarcastically thank NASCAR over the radio:

That left Bowyer all the way at the tail end of the field, but his night would get worse. On Lap 161, Bowyer hit the pits under caution with his right-front wheel well on fire.

The flames ultimately caused the right-front portion of his Toyota’s nose piece to cave in and then melt off. With the damage severe, the team chose to go to the garage.

“First of all, I want to say sorry to Kyle,” Bowyer said about the first-lap incident with Larson to Fox Sports. “I’m a big fan of his, he’s been doing a great job, and I hate that it happened on the first lap. Him and [Brad Keselowski] kind of spun their tires, I got a big run on him, and he moved up.

“I was like, ‘Here we go to the lead’, and at that time, he cut down and I flat got into him. I’m glad he didn’t get in the wall there. The last thing I want to do was ruin his day.”

He then dubbed his tire problems as his “payback” and admitted that he wasn’t expecting such a poor performance.

“We had a good car in practice,” he said. “I have absolutely no idea what happened tonight. I did not see this coming. I really though we were gonna have a shot at contending for the win tonight. It’s kind of the story of our year so far.”

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.