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By Jenna Fryer | Associated Press
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."
Now he likes his chances on Saturday night when 22 drivers will race for fun and a $1 million prize.
"I really do believe, I'm not just saying this because I'm in the position, if you can qualify into the All-Star Race from this qualifying race, it could be an advantage," Bowyer said. "Every time we have these night races, whether it's the All-Star Race or any night race for that matter, we're practicing during the day, completely different set of circumstances for the race, and that's 40 laps of practice with what we're going to see tomorrow night for one million dollar -- make you holler."