Bowyer wins annual Prelude to the Dream

Clint Bowyer started on the pole and led wire-to-wire for his first victory in Tony Stewart’s dirt-track charity race Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway.

Twenty-eight drivers, including 17 from the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, competed in late-model stock cars in the 30-lap event that benefited children’s hospitals in Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis and Charlotte.

”It means a lot to me,” said Bowyer, who owns a dirt-track team and the car he drove. ”It’s just so much fun. There’s not one person here in this whole infield that just doesn’t have a huge smile on their face. It all goes toward such a great cause.”

Bowyer, who is ninth in the Sprint Cup standings, was pursued around the half-mile oval by second-place finisher J.J. Yeley the entire race. Aric Almirola finished third and was followed by Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier.

The event’s raised more than $3 million for various charities since its inception in 2005.

”It’s guys like Clint that make this work,” said Stewart, who’s owned Eldora since 2004.

Following Jimmie Johnson’s wire-to-wire victory last year, this makes two straight wins for Bowyer-owned cars. Johnson finished 18th.

”I qualified so poorly that I really didn’t have a chance,” Johnson said. ”You have to start up there in the first couple rows to have a shot in a short race like this.”

Johnson, the five-time Sprint Cup champion, still has fond memories of last year’s victory.

”It was really high on my list of accomplishments,” Johnson said before the race. ”We’re all fans of Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones because they could drive anything. And Tony Stewart for that matter. To be able to come into a different vehicle, different track, different discipline and win means a lot to a driver.”

Sprint Cup regular Ryan Newman was the fastest qualifier in 16.364 seconds. After heat races, Bowyer was elevated to the pole position and Newman started 12th.

”A lot of them have built cars for this,” Stewart said. ”They really have just embraced the idea of coming here and having fun and being able to raise money for charity. It’s definitely taken on its own life now.”

Carl Edwards, the Sprint Cup points leader, said his favorite thing about racing at Eldora in front of 20,000 fans is the atmosphere that comes with dirt-track racing at night in a race that doesn’t count.

”There’s no tension,” Edwards said. ”Everything’s relaxed, and the underlying good thing about it is it’s all for a great cause.”