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.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.