Clint Bowyer didn’t win Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway and, consequently, didn’t make the Chase Grid - the 16-driver field that makes up the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But he certainly made Greg Biffle sweat.
Bowyer started sixth and was a factor all night, spending much of it in race winner Brad Keselowski’s rear view mirror.
“That was our best effort,” Bowyer said. “That’s all I had. That’s all we had as a race team.”
Bowyer finished third behind Keselowski and Jeff Gordon and ended up seven points short in his quest to overtake Biffle for the final spot in the Chase.
Like Biffle, Ryan Newman failed to win any of the first 26 races this season, but raced his way into the Chase with his ninth-place finish at Richmond.
Bowyer knows that right now, his team at Michael Waltrip Racing -- heavily penalized after last year's Chase-related incident at Richmond -- isn’t ready to challenge for a championship.
“Truth be told, we’re not there right now,” he said. “(We have) a lot of work to do. We put it all out there and still we were just third best.”
Nevertheless, Biffle knew that Bowyer was not only in striking distance of Keselowski, but positioned high enough to force him to finish strong with a Roush Fenway Ford that was not cooperating.
“I’m smiling now (but) I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight or not,” said Biffle, who began the night with a 23-point lead on Bowyer for the final Chase position and finished 19th, two laps down.
“I’m not kidding, man. It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done behind the wheel. I knew there was a lot on the line and I just had to keep focused.”
Biffle has never won in 25 starts at Richmond and an ill-handling car gave him little chance on Saturday. He went a lap down to Keselowski on Lap 204 but didn’t surrender the second lap until Lap 397 of 400.
“It was a frustrating night,” Biffle said. “We ended up 19th and that was good enough. The biggest thing I was worried about was the leader putting us another lap down. That would have put us in jeopardy.
“It’s not where we wanted to run but that’s all we had for tonight. We tested at Chicago (site of the first Chase race) and feel good about that race and going forward.”
Newman primarily needed to avoid catastrophe at Richmond to make the Chase, requiring no more than a 41st-place finish unless the race produced a first-time winner.
“I wasn’t racing Bowyer. I was racing Biffle,” Newman said. “I also knew if I finished in the top 18, no matter who won, I was in. I was not ‘comfortable,’ but I felt like I was in a better position than Biffle (late in the race).
Newman said he wasn’t surprised to be making the Chase in his first season at Richard Childress Racing.
“I wouldn’t have joined (RCR) if I didn’t think we had the potential to be in this position,” he said. “We’ll see what we can do with it now.”