Clint Bowyer wins Showdown; Josh Wise wins fan vote

CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer, a usual Chase for the Sprint Cup championship participant, had to earn a spot into the $1 million Sprint All-Star Race.

It wasn’t a surprise when he won Friday night’s Sprint Showdown to earn an automatic transfer into the main event.

The upset Friday night went to Josh Wise, the stunning winner of the fan vote. Powered by the online community at Reddit and fans who support him through the digital currency Dogecoin, Wise beat out favorite Danica Patrick to earn his first berth in the All-Star race.

“Man, that’s unreal. I can’t believe that,” Wise said. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. This is huge for me and my team.”

It’s also a big deal for NASCAR, which has seen a surge in popularity among the Millennial Generation because of Wise.

A movement began on Reddit early in the season behind a 16-year-old who was impressed by Wise’s effort with underfunded Phil Parsons Racing.

Denis Pavel of Niles, Illinois, noticed Wise had a strong run at Bristol in a car in desperate need of sponsorship. Pavel thought of past fundraisers he’d seen on Reddit, and helped raise enough Dogecoin currency to sponsor Wise’s car at Talladega.

The movement then switched to get him into the All-Star race.

“I didn’t even know what Reddit was,” Bowyer told Wise after the race. “That fan vote is a cool thing, and for you, your community, to beat Danica out is saying something, so good job.”

Wise initially seemed stunned by the act and lauded the online community for getting behind NASCAR.

“This is kind of a big deal for our sport, I felt like, because it’s a lot of young kids and people from around the world,” Wise said. “I’ve had the chance to interact with a lot of them, and there’s a lot of people who had never watched a NASCAR race who have now watched several, so it’s a pretty cool deal.”

But as fans on Twitter, another social media platform, grumbled that the Wise vote was rigged by computer-generated votes from Reddit, Wise dismissed the potential controversy.

“I don’t necessarily care what people say about it,” he said. “People vote and whoever has the most wins. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Making it into Saturday night’s race ensures a $70,000 payday for Phil Parsons Racing, which wouldn’t have gotten into the All-Star race without the fan vote. Wise finished 18th in the 23-car field. It’s bonus money for a cash-strapped team.

“I am stoked for Phil Parsons Racing in general about this,” Wise said. “Phil really took a leap of faith in just saying we’re racing this year, we’re going to do whatever it takes to race, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

“Obviously, all that little bit of funding helps. But I think probably what’s more valuable than that is the exposure that’s coming from it.”

He’ll have a tough time pulling off another big surprise Saturday night in a field full of 19 race winners, Bowyer and AJ Allmendinger, who finished second in the Showdown to earn the other transfer spot.

Bowyer found himself in the Showdown because he failed to win a race last season, when he was ranked second most of the year. He wasn’t all that pleased to be racing Friday night for the right to be in the All-Star race.

“I wasn’t very thrilled about being in this race,” he said. “We haven’t run well, haven’t run where we’re capable of running, and it’s been frustrating. It’s a humbling sport. It always has been.

“I’m a big boy. If this is where we are, we’ve got to go out there and race hard and qualify into that race and become an all-star.”

Stewart finally joins Twitter

CONCORD, N.C. — Tony Stewart has joined Twitter, leaving Carl Edwards as the last major holdout in NASCAR.

Stewart sent his first Tweet on Friday night from Charlotte Motor Speedway. It said: “Ok so here it is. I’m doing my part to combat global warming because now that I’m officially tweeting, hell is freezing over!”

The three-time NASCAR champion had joked often that his representatives would not allow him to join Twitter for fear of the things he might post. He’s a longtime Facebook user, but had otherwise shunned Twitter.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted his first tweet hours after winning the Daytona 500 in February. He surpassed 500,000 followers days after he sent his first 140-character missive.

Stewart’s stats weren’t too shabby: He had over 200,000 followers after his first tweet.

IndyCar

Indy 500 injects drama back into qualifying: In Indianapolis, IndyCar gave the bump to Bump Day. And the series is ready to say hello to a new Indianapolis 500 qualifying format.

The Indy 500 is ready for its dramatic makeover, with a revamped two-day show loaded with points incentives that makes one of IndyCar’s signature weekends relevant again, and throws a significant wrinkle in the championship chase.

Gone are Saturday’s traditional Pole Day and Sunday’s Bump Day.

In their place, a new format that locks the fastest 33 drivers in the field Saturday, then sets the top nine Sunday.

“Do I want to qualify twice in two days? Not really,” reigning Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan said.

“But I think it will bring a lot more excitement.”

IndyCar wanted to shake up its staid way of four-lap qualifying runs that had set the field since 1939, in part because the last two years have lacked a 34th entrant and there was no bumping on Bump Day. So all entries this year will be guaranteed at least one four-lap attempt to qualify, and the fastest nine drivers will move into the shootout.

The previous days’ times will be erased on Sunday and entries 10 through 33 will complete another four-lap qualifying attempt to determine their starting position.

The fastest nine drivers from Saturday will then make one four-lap attempt to determine the prestigious pole winner and starting front row.

For the first time, IndyCar is awarding points based on qualifying runs. The top qualifier on Saturday earns 33 points, second place gets 32 and so on, all the way to one point for the 33rd-place entrant.

The pole winner earns another nine points Sunday, decreasing to one point for the ninth-place starter.

Will Power holds a one-point edge over Ryan Hunter-Reay (149-148) in the standings entering the weekend, a lead in theory he could surrender before the green flag drops for the May 25 Indianapolis 500.

“I’m sure if you’re one of the fast cars at the front competing for the championship, you would definitely go back out to gain some points,” Power said.

The Indianapolis 500, the Pocono IndyCar 500, and the 500-mile season finale race at Fontana, California all award double points.

That setup could give a huge boost to oval aces like Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti. In theory, an oval racer could win the championship on three or four weekends. But should a more versatile driver like Scott Dixon — who has won everywhere from Indy’s oval to Pocono’s triangle — swig the winner’s milk in Victory Lane, he could emerge as a heavy favorite to defend his series championship.

Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi expect their cars to load up the Fast Nine field. Penske’s three entries include three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves, former Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Power. Ganassi boasts Kanaan, Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball.

“We have to be in that top nine,” Penske said. “I think that’s going to be critical to get three cars in that Fast Nine, Fast 10.”

Here are five other things from Friday’s practice:

FAST FRIDAY: Ed Carpenter had the fastest speed on Fast Friday of the Indianapolis 500. Last year’s Indy 500 pole-sitter reached 230.522 mph in just eight laps before practice concluded due to inclement weather. Carpenter was the first to top 230 since the start of practice. Helio Castroneves was second at 229.843 and Marco Andretti was third at 229.419. Rain delayed the start of Fast Friday for almost three hours and lasted only 20 minutes before a yellow flag due rain. Track activity was canceled just before 4:30 p.m.

COR-SAGE: Sage Karam saved some money on a tuxedo rental and a corsage. The 19-year-old rookie driver out of Pennsylvania skipped his Nazareth Area High School prom on Friday night and practiced for the Indy 500. Karam, the reigning Indy Lights champion, will drive the No. 22 Chevrolet in a car fielded jointly by Chip Ganassi Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing. “Instead of going to senior prom today I’ll be dancing with some extra boost! (hash)fastfriday,” he tweeted. Karam, who spent a rainy Friday morning playing Xbox in the garage, hardly seemed bummed about missing the high school ritual. “It’s OK now,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m doing something so much cooler. I’m so thrilled that I’m here doing this. Most of my friends aren’t even going to prom anyway because they’ve got a wrestling tournament they’re going to.”

INDY 2015: Jonathan Byrd’s Racing is returning to the Indy 500 next year. The team will return with Bryan Clauson behind the wheel. JBR fielded Indy 500 cars from 1985 to 2001, and it last had an entry in 2005. Clausen was 30th in the 2012 Indy 500 driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

AWARD WINNER: Andrea Toso, head of research and development and U.S. Racing Leader for Dallara for the Dallara Racing Simulator, was honored with the 48th Louis Schwitzer Award on Friday. The award is given for innovation and engineering excellence in race-car design. The winner receives $10,000.

SENNA: Simon Pagenaud will honor his racing hero Ayrton Senna by wearing a specially-designed helmet in the Indianapolis 500 as a tribute to the three-time World Champion. Pagenaud will auction off the helmet to benefit the Instituto Ayrton Senna, which aids children in need in Brazil.