SONOMA, Calif. - Not much of Clint Bowyer's resume included the details of his road-racing exploits. Only three of his first 12 road races ended with top-five finishes but the one-time Kansas dirt tracker turned in a dominating Sprint Cup performance at Sonoma on Sunday.
Bowyer won the first of NASCAR's two annual events on road courses by holding on during a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the event two laps past its scheduled 110 laps,
"I just saw Jeff Gordon sitting on a wall, and all I could think to myself was, I just beat him," Bowyer said. "Basically I lost my ride (at Richard Childress Racing last year), and I can hardly describe how fortunate I feel and how much I think good things are ahead for Michael Waltrip Racing."
Gordon is NASCAR's all-time leader in road-course victories with nine.
A late caution flag gave Kurt Busch, the Sonoma winner in 2011, and Tony Stewart, a seven-time road-course winner, one last shot at Bowyer's Toyota, but the only noteworthy event was a rousing battle that resulted in Stewart's Chevy finishing second ahead of Busch's.
"I didn't expect him (Bowyer) to be that strong," Busch said. "I know Clint came from short tracks in Kansas. ... Without a doubt, I thought I could force him into a mistake."
"No one thought he was one of the best road racers in the past," Stewart added, "but all weekend he had good speed. He didn't make any mistakes."
Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson and Gordon finished fourth through sixth, respectively.
No surprise marred the start as Marcos Ambrose seized the edge from the pole, with Gordon tracking at a safe distance. Fourth-place starter Greg Biffle managed to slip ahead of Johnson, while, back in the pack, Stewart surprised no one by picking up six positions in the first three laps.
Gordon's Chevy outbraked Ambrose's Ford on the 12th lap. By that point, Biffle had slumped to 10th. Johnson advanced to second by passing Ambrose on the 14th lap. A lap later, Toyota teammates Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. relegated Ambrose to fifth.
Bowyer became the race's third leader on lap 25th and, after passing Gordon, pulled away by more than four seconds. Pit stops intervened, but Bowyer's Toyota was dominating the race by the halfway point, at which point he led by 4.254 seconds. Gordon was second and, surprisingly, Kurt Busch was third.
One of Bowyer's potential nemeses, Gordon, fell victim to running out of gas, dropping him to 15th place, still on the lead lap but out of contention, at least for a victory. He was able to coast down pit road but lost considerable time that was impossible to make up time in a race that, at time of the mistake, had run without any caution flags.
Kevin Harvick's Chevy also ran out of gas with about 30 laps remaining. The miscue cost Harvick a lap.
A crash involving the Chevy driven by Tomy Drissi finally left NASCAR officials no choice but to slow the field for the first time on lap 82. No Sonoma race had ever gone more than 42 laps without a caution flag.
The top eight drivers - Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Truex, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears and Vickers - passed up pitting opportunities. Among those who did pit for fresh tires and fuel included Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Ambrose and Gordon.
As the end neared, the nature of the racing changed, but, particularly in the case of a wild spin involving Denny Hamlin's Toyota on lap 94, NASCAR officials' reluctance to throw a yellow flag seemed remarkable. That cost Kyle Busch valuable positions and dropped him to 10th.
Meanwhile, the action up front heated up as Kurt Busch closed in on Bowyer. Roughly three seconds clear of the rest of the field, the two put on a private show with Bowyer blunting every Busch advance.
Stewart, whose entire day had been an exercise in upward mobility, wrested third place from Johnson, on lap 103, after taking fourth from Vickers a lap earlier. Stewart had been moving up gradually from 24th position at the start.
Busch's Chevy finally suffered the detrimental effects of his feverish pursuit, losing touch with the leader in the final 10 circuits.
Then came a tangle involving Kyle Busch, Juan Montoya and Paul Menard on lap 106, at last producing the day's second caution period.
Ambrose, who started first, finished eighth. He also won the pole a week earlier at Michigan, where he finished ninth.
All three of Bowyer's previous top-five finishes on road courses had been fourths at Sonoma.
"Quietly, we've had good runs here, and quietly it's been one of my favorite race tracks," Bowyer said, "but, man, I'd never had a car like this here."
Bowyer led 71 of the 112 laps in an event extended two overtime laps by the latter caution period.