Clint Bowyer held off fast-closing J.J. Yeley to win the seventh annual Prelude to the Dream on Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway.
Bowyer started from the pole and led wire-to-wire in the 30-lap main event after winning the first of four heat races in the same fashion. Yeley was closing fast at the end and finished second, followed by Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier.
Tony Stewart established the Prelude in 2005 to raise money for a variety of charities. This year the beneficiaries were four children's hospitals: Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.; Children's Healthcare of Atlanta; St. Louis Children's Hospital; and Children's Medical Center of Dallas.
"Obviously, track position was the key, but bringing good equipment -- it takes the same recipe to win these races that it does in our world, the Cup world," Bowyer said. "It takes hard work and dedication, bringing good equipment to the race track and adjusting to whatever the condition is.
"[Wednesday night] it was dry/slick. Obviously, qualifying well and running well in the heat race led to a good starting spot, and ultimately I ended up winning the race."
After finishing second in 2009 and '10, Bowyer finally claimed the top prize.
"It feels so good," said Bowyer, who owns his own team and also provided a car for Jimmie Johnson. "I'm really proud of my guys. It was asking a lot of them to make this happen, with two cars on top of what they have going on in their world.
"That's what makes me proud, to be able to do this for them and be a part of it."
Drivers were competing for team as well as individual honors to determine the division of the proceeds raised for charity. Team St. Louis, paced by Allgaier, claimed the top prize -- 30 percent of the proceeds. Second was Team Atlanta, led by Bowyer, earning 25 percent of the money raised.
Team Dallas, spearheaded by Yeley and Almirola, took third, followed by Team Levine, whose highest finisher was Prelude rookie Austin Dillon in eighth. Dallas and Levine each receive 20 percent of the proceeds.
Ryan Newman won the pole for the Prelude, darting around the half-mile dirt track in 16.364 seconds to edge Carl Edwards (16.429 seconds) and Busch (16.444 seconds). Kasey Kahne (16.478 seconds) was fourth, and each of the top four qualifiers started third in their respective heats.
That turned out to be a hindrance, as all four heat winners came from the front rows of their respective 8-lappers. Bowyer beat Stewart on the start to win Heat 1. Allgaier led wire-to-wire in the second heat. Marcos Ambrose pulled away from Ricky Carmichael to take Heat 3, and Jason Leffler led all eight laps of the final heat.
That set up a 30-lap main event with Bowyer, Almirola, Ambrose and Yeley lining up in the top four spots. As former winners, Stewart, Kenny Wallace and Johnson lined up in the rear, hoping to collect a $50,000 bonus for their respective hospitals by winning from the back.
Edwards, the other former winner in the field, opted to keep his ninth starting spot, but he had a good reason.
"We want to win this race, and we're in a fortunate position that we've won it already, so the pressure's kind of off -- just go out there and have some fun," Edwards said before the event. "The pressure I do have, though, comes from my [crew] guys over there sweating right now.
"They told me that the boss man, Stacy Holmes, who owns the car, vowed that, if I win this race, he's getting air conditioning in the shop for the guys. So if I mess this up, there's going to be a lot of really hot, sweaty, mad people -- at me -- so there's some pressure here."
Though the decision didn't work out for Edwards, who finished 15th, the event accomplished its purpose, with the overriding aim to raise money for the children's hospitals. Integral to the proceedings, too, are the fun and fellowship that keep the top drivers coming back year after year.
"That's what we're here to do, have a good time for a great cause, the children's hospitals," said David Gilliland, who finished 21st in his Prelude debut. "I had Aflac sponsor me in Atlanta one time, and I got to go do a children's hospital tour and meet with some of the kids. It definitely left a lasting impression."