Clint Bowyer wins dramatic Chase opening race at New Hampshire

Nick Bromberg

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Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was probably what NASCAR had in mind for the finales at Homestead when the Chase was created in 2004. Except that this was the first race of the 2010 Chase.

There were 21 lead changes, nearly constant side-by-side racing and over the course of the race and half of the Chase field was pointing backwards on the track at some point.

Oh yeah, there was fuel mileage drama too.

Tony Stewart ran out of gas as he took the white flag, which allowed Clint Bowyer to slip by and take the win.

Bowyer had to hold off a hard charging Denny Hamlin, who was good to go to the finish on fuel after getting spun around by Carl Edwards in a messy sequence of cautions with approximately 100 laps to go.

Bowyer, Stewart and Jeff Burton last pitted on lap 208 of the 300 lap race and tried to stretch the fuel after the final caution flag flew on lap 241, too soon for the leaders to pit and give up the track position they had gained. Stewart finished 24th while Burton finished 15th.

Burton ran out on the backstretch of lap 299, just before Stewart. But Bowyer, who kept the interval to Stewart constant over the final green flag stretch, had enough to do a burnout.

The spin-to-second keeps Hamlin in the points lead and vaults Bowyer into second, just 35 points behind. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson had to pit with 40 laps to go under green for a loose wheel and finished 28th.

The unofficial standings: 1. Hamlin (5230), 2. Bowyer (-35), 3. Kevin Harvick (-45), 4. Kyle Busch (-62), 5. Jeff Gordon (-75), 6. Kurt Busch (-86), 7. Johnson (-92), 8. Edwards (-95), 9. Greg Biffle (-108), 10. Burton (-112), 11. Stewart (-124), 12. Matt Kenseth (-136).