NASCAR: The Mystifying Eclipse of Clint Bowyer

Bowyer's stepping  back to a top ride for 2017.

Bowyer’s stepping back to a top ride for 2017.

On Sunday, we witnessed an intense blood moon eclipse, but another rare cosmic event occurred before sundown during the Sprint Cup Race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), is as cosmic as drivers come and is always ready with an uncanny quip for the media. Alas, on Sunday, Bowyer finished a lackluster 26th in the Sylvania 300 and his 2015 Sprint Cup quest will likely end next week at the Dover International Speedway, as he is currently 39 points out of the final cutoff spot, almost an entire race worth of points.

Two weeks ago, during the final regular season race at Richmond International Raceway, Bowyer, on the cusp of barely qualifying for the Chase, proclaimed “I am looking forward to the races after (Richmond). You don’t just want to back your way into the Chase and then not perform and be the first one out. I want to go some rounds and have some fun in it and make some noise.”

Instead for MWR, the company’s epitaph will end with a “checkered” history, but not the kind most organizations seek. Back on August 19th, MWR officials announced that the organization and Bowyer had mutually agreed to sever their relationship following the completion of the 2015 racing season and that MWR would completely shut down and not field any teams in 2016, resulting in the layoff of over 200 employees.

The hemorrhaging continued this past week, as NASCAR penalized the #15 MWR team twenty-five driver and owner points, plus crew chief Billy Scott was to be suspended three races, fined $75,000 and placed on probation for six months, subject to an appeal hearing next Wednesday. Bowyer’s car was found to have illegal track bar components, the result of a pre-race inspection at Chicagoland Speedway last week.

Stewart is retiring fro active driving after the 2016 season.

Stewart is retiring fro active driving after the 2016 season.

Now, with two forgettable races in the Chase, Clint Bowyer should undoubtedly turn his attention to securing his 2016 ride. Unfortunately for Bowyer, virtually every decent seat is already taken for next year, resulting in a small universe of feasible alternatives on which to speculate. We are already into the 2015 season’s twilight, with “silly season” precedent dictating that major NASCAR driver moves be generally announced no later than August, and often sooner. So, Bowyer’s prospects, while perhaps fading fast, include:

  1. Furniture Row Racing held a press conference on Sunday prior to the start of the Sylvania 300, officially announcing that FRR will switch from fielding Chevrolets to Toyotas next season. FRR general manager Joe Garone stated “The added resources and technical support that Toyota will provide, along with having a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, definitely increases the growth potential for our team. The track record of Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing speaks for itself.”

Speculation is that Barnie Visser, team principal, would like to add a second team, having achieved a big milestone this year with Martin Truex, Jr. qualifying for the Chase. If Bowyer can bring his sponsors, he seeds some of the investment necessary for FRR to jump start a second team. Additionally, with FRR’s switch to Toyota power, there is a surplus of MWR talent with Toyota engineering experience currently looking for employment. Finally, Truex Jr. and Bowyer were former teammates at MWR. Perhaps Bowyer has been holding out for the door to swing open at FRR, given the shift to Toyota power was the first shoe that needed to drop.

  1. HScott Motorsports currently fields two drivers, but one of those drivers is Justin Allgaier of the #51 Brandt Chevrolet, who has yet to be re-signed for the 2016 season. Although a deal has been suggested as being in the works, the availability of Bowyer is an option that HSM team principal Harry Scott must be considering given his expressed desire to progress to a larger, more successful Cup organization.

Bowyer is a proven talent, having amassed eight wins and 58 top-five finishes at NASCAR’s highest level of competition. Additionally, he has qualified for the Chase six times in his career and finished second in the final points standings back in 2012. Bowyer’s proven capability for HScott Motorsports offers a clear opportunity to benchmark the performance of his two car team and determine what gaps exist for a smaller team aspiring to rise up the ranks.

  1. Stewart-Haas Racing, although having qualified two of its four drivers for the Chase, could certainly benefit from Bowyer’s experience and talent, given the lingering struggles at the remaining two teams this year. Having now scheduled a Wednesday team press conference, SHR is expected to announce that Tony Stewart will retire at the end of 2016, opening up a seat for 2017 at one of NASCAR’s most iconic teams. As SHR has a stall full of celebrity drivers with strong personas, Bowyer’s levity would complement the outspoken nature of SHR’s current drivers and principals. Less significant is that Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer were teammates for two years at Richard Childress Racing back in 2010.

Bowyer would still be left to find a “placeholder” ride for 2016; however, Kurt Busch took a similar road to Stewart-Haas when he joined Furniture Row Racing for a short deal prior to joining SHR. Back in 2010, Kasey Kahne also took a similar road to Hendrick Motorsports, when he signed a one-year bridge deal to drive for the now defunct Red Bull Racing while he awaited the conclusion of Mark Martin’s final season at Hendrick. With the web of customers (including Stewart-Haas, Chip Ganassi Racing, and HScott Motorsports) that buy Hendrick powerplants, Bowyer’s ability to find a one-year bridge deal should not be misjudged.

In spite of his current trials, Bowyer remains a homegrown, charismatic driver who appeals to many fans. Like the blood moon eclipse, a proven talent like Bowyer, coming with loyal sponsorship is a rare event. If, as expected, Tony Stewart hangs up his helmet after 2016, the stargazing signs point to a combination of #2 and #3 above, with Bowyer taking the one-year bridge deal to secure his long-term future at SHR.

By Ron Bottano. Follow on Twitter: @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

Bowyer Hopes That Kansas Homecoming Is A Good One

Kansas Speedway is the home track for native son Clint Bowyer. He's never won there, but comes into this weekend's race with a lot of momentum.

Kansas Speedway is the home track for native son Clint Bowyer. He’s never won there, but comes into this weekend’s race with a lot of momentum.

All drivers have their favorite track – or tracks. For the most part they feel comfortable racing on them because they fit their style.

And, mostly, they are very successful on them. Their propensity for success makes them optimistic and eager to compete again.

Or maybe the speedway is a driver’s “hometown” track, one at which he always hopes to do well for friends and family.

Yes, among much more, you’ve heard this before: Denny Hamlin wants to win at Richmond, Tony Stewart yearns for victory at Indianapolis (as does Jeff Gordon) and Clint Bowyer would love to win at Kansas. 

Thing is, Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., has never won at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. He’s come close. He lost to Gregg Biffle in 2007.

It goes without saying Bowyer covets a victory at Kansas. He fashioned his career in “America’s Heartland.”

He began racing motocross in 1985, collecting over 200 wins and several championships, before moving to four wheels where he won numerous titles at tracks like Thunderhill, Lakeside and I-70 Speedways.  Prior to making the jump to full-time NASCAR racing, Bowyer worked in the service department at Emporia Motors – which is now the Clint Bowyer Autoplex where several bands are currently sold.  He also opened the Bowyer Community Building in his hometown in 2012.  

Bowyer, who has five top-10 finishes at Kansas, wed girlfriend Lorra and the couple announced they’re expecting a baby boy recently on social media.

Also, a short while ago it was announced that Bowyer’s contract with Michael Waltrip Racing was extended through 2017, as was his sponsor, 5-Hour Energy.

Considering that comforting news – and a third-place finish at Talladega – it may be said father-to-be Bowyer comes into this weekend’s 5-hour Energy 400 at Kansas with a load of momentum.

In his Toyota, Bowyer seemed poised to join Roush Fenway Racing’s Biffle in a rundown of Talladega leader Hamlin on the last lap.

But NASCAR called for a caution period because of heavy debris on the front-

One of the five drivers who have won twice at Kansas is Greg Biffle, who finished second at Talladega and will be a favorite this weekend.

One of the five drivers who have won twice at Kansas is Greg Biffle, who finished second at Talladega and will be a favorite this weekend.

stretch. That assured Hamlin of the victory.

“I hate that the caution came out, but given the situation, NASCAR made the right call,” Bowyer said. “It was a bummer because I just liked what I saw with Biffle – you knew he was going to pull out and make a move.  

“I had my teammate (Brian Vickers) right behind me and I was really looking forward to that opportunity when Biffle did pull out and make a move.

“I thought that was a chance for me to get a good push from my teammate and try to pounce on those guys while they were side-by-side and stalled out.  

“But it just didn’t happen.”

Even so, Bowyer felt good about the results.

“All in all, hey, I just told Rob (Kauffman, team co-owner), ‘Hey, do you really have all three of these things in one piece at the end of Talladega?  You’re pretty lucky.’ 

“It was a good day for us.  It was a good turnaround.  We’ve needed a good run after last week (at Richmond, where Bowyer finished 43rd).

“That was a pretty dismal week for us. So this was a good way to get things bounced back.”

Bowyer would like things to keep bouncing along. The truth is they need to. He’s 18th in points with just three finishes among the top 10.

He has yet to win – and a victory is critical if he is to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

He would love to win at Kansas where – he will undoubtedly be a fan favorite.

“It’s time to focus on winning,” Bowyer said. “And going back home – at the end of the day it’s seeing everybody – family, friends. 

“That’s God’s country and it’s always fun to go back to God’s country.”

Clint, my man, I’m sure you know that while they may not think Kansas is God’s country, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Biffle, Gordon and Stewart lead all drivers with two victories each at the track.

Reckon they’re pretty fond of it too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Controversial Phoenix Smacks Of What Many Think Missing From Today’s NASCAR

In a wild and controversial Phoenix race, Kevin Harvick emerged victorious for the first time this season. He also won for the first time in the last 44 races.

A couple of conclusions after the Advocare 500 at Phoenix:

Any hope of a dramatic, exciting conclusion to the 2012 NASCAR Chase For The Sprint Cup has been effectively eradicated – barring unforeseen circumstances, which, incidentally, happened at Phoenix.

We saw a taste of what NASCAR used to be; an example of the wild and wooly days of which many of us have never seen, yet about which we have heard so much.

And to be perfectly honest, it was the type of bare-knuckled racing many have missed. They add that its absence has made NASCAR far less appealing than it could be – and once was.

Before we go any further it should be noted that Kevin Harvick won the race after a controversial green-white-checkered restart.

It was Harvick’s first win of the season and his first in 44 races, dating back to Richmond in September of 2011.

It was his 19th career Sprint Cup victory and his third at Phoenix. He gave Richard Childress Racing its 101st win in Cup competition and its first since 2011, at Talladega, 38 races ago.

Indeed, it was an excellent achievement for Harvick, who led only the last 15 laps of the race.

But that he won will not be what is likely to be most remembered about this Phoenix race.

In a stunning series of developments Jimmie Johnson, who came into the race a mere seven points ahead of Brad Keselowski in the title fight, not only lost his lead but, apparently, has also lost any hope for a sixth career championship.

On lap 234 of 319, Johnson smacked the wall in the fourth turn after his Chevrolet’s right front tire suffered a melted tire bead from excessive heat.

A Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer incident on the track sparked tempers and more among members of both teams. A brief pit scuffle ensued but was quickly ended.

The incident was disastrous for Johnson. He spent 38 laps in the garage for repairs and when he returned to the race, the best he could accomplish was a 32nd-place finish.

Meanwhile, Keselowski, who led 10 laps but consistently ran among the top10, finished sixth, which could have been better had he not been involved in a controversial last-lap melee.

Still, the result is that Keselowski is all but assured of the championship. He is 20 points ahead of Johnson going into the final race of the season at Homestead.

Keselowski and Johnson are the only two drivers eligible for the title. All Keselowski needs to do is finish 15th at Homestead and he will earn his first championship, the first for team owner Roger Penske and the first since 1975 for Dodge – which, ironically, will depart NASCAR at season’s end.

However, Keselowski is not guaranteed anything. He benefitted from a 27-point swing at Phoenix and the same thing, or worse, could work against him at Homestead.

But it’s highly unlikely.

“I heard he (Johnson) blew a right-front tire and I was thinking what conspiracy theorists are going to come up with on this one and then you realize that the same thing could happen to you,” Keselowski said. “And so you try not to let that get into you too much and try to just focus on what you got and make sure you don’t have the same problem.

“Obviously there are no guarantees. We could go to Homestead and have the same problem and Jimmie, you know, takes the point lead back over.

“No guarantees but very proud to have that points lead heading into next week.”

A multicar crackup on lap 312 was caused when Jeff Gordon chose to extract his revenge on Clint Bowyer.

Gordon was limping around the track with a tire going down and was black-flagged by NASCAR, which wanted him to pit.

But, instead, Gordon waited on Bowyer, with whom he had made earlier contact that resulted in Gordon’s flat tire.

Gordon spun Bowyer out and in the process collected Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. This brought out the eighth, and final, caution period.

After Gordon got out of his car crewmen from his Hendrick Motorsports team and others from Bowyer’s Michael Waltrip Racing got into a sizable scuffle in the pits.

Then Bowyer ran from his car to Gordon’s hauler in an effort to spur a confrontation, which did not happen.

All of this was caught on television. It will be part of every highlight reel on ESPN – or anywhere else, for that matter.

“All I was doing is riding around biding my time,” Bowyer said. “I mean, I barely touched him and then I feel him get into turn three and try to turn me and he missed.

“The next thing I know I’m told on the radio that he’s waiting on me.  It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion – and whom I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen – to act like that is just completely ridiculous.”

The incident forced Bowyer into 28th place and from third to fourth in points, 52 behind. He is eliminated from championship contention.

“I literally barely rubbed him and then all the sudden I feel him trying to retaliate,” Bowyer said. “He missed or something and hit the wall and made himself look like a fool.”

Will Bowyer retaliate at Homestead?

 “We just have to wait and see,” he said.

Said Gordon: “Things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it. Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined our day.

“I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back.”

The fireworks were not over.

The incident set up a green-white-checkered restart and Harvick, the leader at the time, easily held his ground.

As the white flag flew, Danica Patrick and Jeff Burton made contact. Patrick was able to limp onward but it was assumed there was fluid on the track.

NASCAR, which said later it couldn’t detect anything on the track and that Patrick was well out of the way, did not call for a caution.

On the last lap several cars spun. Among them were those of Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin. Keselowski was hit but manage to plow through to the finish.

That there was retaliation on the track; that there was a rumble in the pits and that one driver sped to angrily confront another are things that are not prevalent in NASCAR – despite the fact some claim stock car racing is not far removed from professional racing (an incredibly ludicrous opinion).

But they do happen.

That there was a last-lap multicar accident that, in the opinion of many, myself included, that could have been avoided if NASCAR had thrown the yellow flag, is also rare.

But track paybacks, fights, confrontations and second-guessing NASCAR have always been a part of the sport.

In the final analysis what happened at Phoenix smacks of what many say is missing in NASCAR – which is hard, confrontational, and emotional racing that leads to controversy.

Keselowski colorfully said that what is retaliation today is ridiculous.

He’s entitled to his opinion but, with all due respect, he hasn’t been around long enough to know what retaliation was, and how often it happened, in NASCAR.

Opinions will vary, but the type of racing at Phoenix was dramatic, exciting and memorable.

I think fans would love to see more.

And would NASCAR, which will stand by its decisions and likely issue no penalties whatsoever.

Frankly, after Phoenix, I think NASCAR has to be delighted – silently, of course.

This Time For Sure For Dale Earnhardt Jr – Fantasy Insight Texas 1

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Regular readers of Fantasy Insight know that my handicapping system for NASCAR races has its roots in horse race handicapping. This week I am going to go against the wisdom of my Dad’s first rule of horse picking: “Thou shalt not pick a horse to win that is coming in off a long losing streak.” This is sound advice but sometimes there is a pick that rises to the top that defies that simple logic. As the famous philosopher Bullwinkle T. Moose might say, “This time for sure Dale Earnhardt Jr. Fans.”

The concept of occasionally picking a “Horse” in the middle of a losing streak comes from a trip to the harness races over 30 years ago. My handicapping system was still in the development stages but it was already showing promise by picking a solid percentage of winners at good prices. Anyone can pick the favorites and find winners but the secret to success at the horse races is picking the occasional longshot. When I showed my Dad the figures on a horse called Dusty Magoo N and told him he was going to win my Dad laughed. But would I have the last laugh on this night?

Dusty Magoo N was winless in fourteen races since coming over from New Zealand and was starting from the outside post position, which is like starting 43rd and last at Martinsville! But the figures showed that if this horse got a good trip he was due to break through with a win. Since the horse was going off at 80 to 1 odds if he won that $2 bet would earn me a $160 profit. The horse had a driver change and an equipment change to go with coming off a string of strong but losing efforts. Dale Jr. is this week’s Dusty Magoo N heading to Texas Motor Speedway.

Dale Jr. has been successful at Texas in the past with his first Cup win coming here. When NASCAR switched car types his performances at TMS became very poor. But the last two races Dale Jr. has posted top 10 finishes. This season he has been one of the most consistent drivers in NASCAR’s Cup division. Expect a strong effort by Dale Jr. this week and a good chance to end his winless drought of almost four years.

So what happened to Dusty Magoo M back at Arlington Park? Not only did he win his race letting me cash a huge winning ticket he went on a four-race win streak! (Dad cashed a huge exacta wager because he trusted my picks) This time for sure, Dale Jr. fans.

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for Texas.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

 

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Winner Last Week

Shari and Carbon Super Sport were the winners last week.

 

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After 6 Weeks

Pos

Player

Total

1T

Carbon

12

1T

Shari P

12

3

Gertie

11

4T

LAM

10

4T

RA

10

6

Grainger

9

7T

Chris U

8

7T

Mike N

8

7T

Pops

8

10

Aaron C

7

 

Weather Report

Variably cloudiness, Green Flag temp of 78°F,

Isolated showers & thunderstorms expected

http://raceweather.net

 

Fantasy Racing Question of the Week: Gary in Texas – Which rating is most important; track rating, track type or consistency? Can a driver be a strong pick if he is weak in one of the ratings?

Answer – All three ratings are important which is why all three ratings are weighted the same in the power rating analysis. The good handicapper looks beyond just the raw numbers to trends. You can also allow one weak rating depending on the reason for the poor performances. (IE: Consistency rating due to accidents, rain shortened races or pit road penalties)

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week.

 

NASCAR by the Numbers- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

Clint Bowyer

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

 

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

J Johnson

93

G Biffle

92

M Truex

92

T Stewart

91

R Newman

91

D Earnhardt Jr

91

K Harvick

91

M Kenseth

89

D Hamlin

88

B Keselowski

87

 

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

M Kenseth

94

G Biffle

94

D Hamlin

92

K Harvick

90

C Bowyer

89

D Ragan

88

T Stewart

88

M Ambrose

88

M Martin

88

J Johnson

87

 

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

T Stewart

97

C Edwards

95

M Kenseth

92

K Harvick

91

J Gordon

91

R Newman

88

K Kahne

87

G Biffle

87

M Truex

87

D Hamlin

87

 

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

T Stewart

276

M Kenseth

275

G Biffle

273

K Harvick

271

D Hamlin

267

J Johnson

264

R Newman

264

D Earnhardt Jr

263

C Edwards

263

C Bowyer

261

M Truex

261

AJ Allmendinger

256

M Martin

253

J Gordon

253

M Ambrose

250

P Menard

249

K Kahne

248

J Burton

247

B Keselowski

245

Ku Busch

244

Ky Busch

244

D Ragan

243

J Logano

241

JP Montoya

239

J McMurray

238

A Almirola

238

R Smith

235

D Reutimann

225

C Mears

223

B Labonte

222

T Kvapil

219

L Cassill

216

D Gilliland

212

D Blaney

212

 

Matt Kenseth

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

 

Top Pick (Last Week 14th)

Dale Earnhardt Jr- This could be the week Junior Nation gets to celebrate

(15 to 1 Odds)

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week Winner)

Clint Bowyer- MWR revival is real; both Bowyer and Truex are good longshot picks

(20 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week 12th)

Matt Kenseth- Super consistent and Ford has won 10 of 22 Cup races at TMS

(10 to 1 Odds)

 

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 3rd)           

Greg Biffle- Could get that elusive win and can almost guarantee top ten finish

(12 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week 17th)    

Bobby Labonte- Best of a weak group; ride him the next couple of races

Special Pick for Texas- AJ Allmendinger

This week I have a special hunch pick for Texas Motor Speedway based on my tried and true handicapping method at this track based on who would look sillier in a cowboy hat. There is no doubt “Dinger the Kid” would look silliest of all so he might win!

Crazy 8s for Texas

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Last Race at Martinsville: Dennis won the matchup 5-0

Season Record: Lori and Lori are tied at 3-3

Texas Group 1: Dennis Picks Greg Biffle and Lori Picks Tony Stewart

Texas Group 2: Lori Picks Jimmie Johnson and Dennis Picks Carl Edward

Texas Group 3: Dennis Picks AJ Allmendinger and Lori Picks Jeff Gordon

Texas Group 4: Lori Picks Mark Martin and Dennis Picks Kasey Kahne

Texas Group 5: Dennis Picks Trevor Bayne and Lori Picks Travis Kvapil

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. Weekly prize given away! 

Some Real Surprises Already In This NASCAR Season, So What Happens Next?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has surprised many with his highly competitive start to the 2012 season. As of now, second in points, he's on the path to win a race and be a championship contender. But will it last?

The first break in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is over – I think the next one is sometime in July – and the competition resumes this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

At Texas we will get some small indication that if most of what we’ve seen so far becomes a pattern or, in fact, it’s been an anomaly.

In other words, are the guys and teams that have surprised us to date going to continue to overachieve, or are they going to take a competitive tumble?

At the moment I don’t know – and neither do you nor anyone else.

But after six races we all know who has accomplished far more than we might have anticipated.

Believe me, some of them have come out of nowhere. They were on no one’s radar when the season began.

Take Michael Waltrip Racing, for example.

Not to besmirch the team or its owner at all, but when it made its full-time debut in 2002, not everyone took it seriously.

Some conjectured that the effusive Waltrip was simply taking up an expensive hobby.

And there was a time when it appeared he’d have to give it up. As it was for many other NASCAR teams, expenses and a poor economy were burdens for MWR.

But Waltrip acquired financial support through a partner, Robert Kauffman, and kept chugging along.

Even with many driver and personnel changes, “chugging” is about all MWR did for several seasons.

David Reutimann earned the only two victories for the team in 2009 and 2010.

Last season Martin Truex Jr. was the team’s highest finisher in the point standings – 18th.

I think it’s fair to say MWR wasn’t pegged for greatness in 2012.

It may be a little early to suggest that’s where it’s headed, but enough time has passed for us to know MWR isn’t “chugging” any more. It’s zipping along on the fast track.

What ignited this was MWR’s impressive run at Bristol. It put three drivers in the top 10, led by Truex Jr. in third, Clint Bowyer in fourth and Brian Vickers fifth in his first of eight races for the team this season.

MWR has had one or more of its drivers score a top-10 finish in each of six races this year. Truex Jr. leads the way with four, Bowyer has three. Part-timers Mark Martin has two and Vickers one.

Given that Martin and Vickers are on limited schedules, that means MWR has only two drivers who can contend for the championship, Truex Jr. and Bowyer.

Presently Truex Jr. is sixth in points and Bowyer ranks ninth. Yes, it is very early in the season, but indeed, as of now they are championship contenders.

If MWR had been nothing more than the proverbial “flash in the pan” with its Bristol performance it would be quickly ignored.

But it has been surprisingly competitive, week after week. The challenge will be to maintain that for the remainder of the season.

 

***** OK, I realize fully you have heard, read or seen this before. After all, to many in NASCAR, all Dale Earnhardt Jr. has to do to get some headlines is sneeze.

But Earnhardt Jr., to date, is getting notice because he’s doing exactly what many of us thought he would when he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Well, not everything we thought. He hasn’t been winning races.

Not yet, anyway.

After six races this season Earnhardt Jr. has earned four finishes among the top 10, which include three among the top five. Those three have been a runnerup and two in third place.

He is presently second in points, only six behind Greg Biffle.

He has expressed renewed, great confidence and an eagerness to get back on the track because he knows his team’s competitive level is at an all-time high.

I am certain not many thought Earnhardt Jr., who has been little more than mediocre for so many years, would be in such a lofty position this early in the year.

Yes, in the past he has gone on some performance streaks that have matched his potential and encouraged his fans.

But they have been brief. And most of them have come when Earnhardt Jr. struggled to make the Chase or stay among the eligible top 12.

Now, however, good performance has come with the first green flag of the season. Instead of scrapping for a Chase position Earnhardt Jr. is entrenched in one.

He has the remainder of the season to do well enough to stay there – and, most important, win a race.

Newcomer Clint Bowyer's performances in 2012 are one reason why Michael Waltrip Racing has ascended to a prominence few expected of it this year.

 

***** Speaking of Biffle, the current points leader has, like Earnhardt Jr., four top 10 finishes with three among the top five.

He’s presently the top dog at Roush Fenway Racing and that is a decidedly different situation than last year.

In 2011, Biffle did not win a race, finished among the top 10 only 10 times and wound up 16th in points, the only Roush driver not to make the Chase. He was the runt of the litter.

Biffle has, on more than one occasion, praised his team, and particularly crew chief Matt Puccia, for the reversal of fortune.

How long this reversal of fortune lasts is a matter that will be determined as the season moves along.

Nevertheless, count Biffle as one who has surprised all of us thus far.

 

***** There are other pleasant surprises:

Tony Stewart has already won twice this year and usually it takes him more than a half-season to hit his stride.

His teammate, Ryan Newman, has also won which means Stewart Haas Racing has been a formidable force so far this season.

Brad Keselowski has settled in nicely to his new role as senior driver at Penske Racing. He’s won a race, at Bristol, and barring some unfortunate situations, he’d be much higher than 12th in points.

He wrecked at Daytona, had fuel issues at Las Vegas and got nabbed for speeding on pit road at Fontana.

As for the not-so-pleasant surprises we can certainly mention Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.

Their luck hasn’t been bad. It’s been rotten.

But that can change.

So can everything else.

Or, perhaps in some cases, things will remain the same – for which those involved would be grateful.

Time will tell. And plenty of that remains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bowyer Wins, Wheldon Laid to Rest, Simoncelli Killed

Clint Bowyer took the win at Talladega, Dan Wheldon was laid to rest in St. Petersburg, Florida and Marco Simoncelli was killed in a horrible crash in Moto GP. Formula One annouced a second date for a U.S. Grand Prix and Sebastian Bourdais receives the Dan Wheldon Memorial Trophy in Australian Supercars.

 

To Be Sure, Talladega Race Lived Up To Its Billing

Clint Bowyer won for the first time this season in a typical, unpredictable Talladega race. The win was especially rewarding for Bowyer, whose six-season tenure with Richard Childress Racing comes to an end after this season. Bowyer presented Childress with his 100th victory as a team owner.

The Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the sixth race in the 10-event Chase, was characterized as the “wild card” event of the “playoffs.”

That’s because of the typical unpredictability of the race. With high speeds and two-car “dance partner” drafting that is a part of the 2.66-mile Talladega track and its sister, Daytona, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what is going to happen – much less an outcome.

Championship contenders could have poor finishes, or fall by the wayside, for many reasons – all related to the complexities of restrictor-plate racing. A driver in the lead on the last lap could very well find himself outside the top 10 by the time he got to the finish line. An unheralded, even unknown, competitor could find the means to win – consider young Trevor Bayne, who took the victory in the Daytona 500.

The Good Sam Club 500 lived up to its billing. It was indeed a “wild card” race.

The winner was certainly not unheralded or unknown. But he was unexpected. It’s very likely few, in any, predicted he would triumph at Talladega.

But that’s exactly what Clint Bowyer did. He won for the first time this season – his last victory came in this race in 2010 – he became the first Chase non-qualifier to win in the “playoff.” He earned the distinction of providing the 100th Cup series victory for Richard Childress Racing.

Ironically, it came five races before Bowyer’s tenure with Childress comes to an end. Largely because of a lack of sponsorship, Bowyer will move over to Michael Waltrip Racing next season and RCR may well be reduced from four teams to three.

As for the Chase contenders, overall, they fared worse at Talladega than in any other race since the title hunt began at Chicagoland on Sept. 19.

Only three of them finished among the top 10. Two placed 11th-20th and a whopping seven were 25th or worse.

Replacing them at the head of the pack were such drivers as Jeff Burton (second), Dave Blaney (third, his best finish of the season), Brian Vickers (5th), Kasey Kahne (6th), Waltrip (9th) and Martin Truex Jr. (10th).

Really, now, who could have predicted that?

And who could have predicted that the Chase leaders, those drivers atop the standings when the Talladega event began, would experience mediocre to dismal results?

Carl Edwards, No. 1 in the standings, finished 11th, his first run outside the top 10 since the Chase began. Kevin Harvick, who was hot on Edwards’ heels prior to the race, experienced on-track misfortune and wound up 32nd. Matt Kenseth, third when the green flag fell, could do no better than 18th.

Resurgence for Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch came to an end as they saw momentum die with finishes of 26th and 33rd, respectively.

For all of that, Edwards not only retains his lead in the point standings, he now has largest margin in the first six races of the Chase – largely because he finished ahead of all but two of his rivals.

Edwards now has a 14-point margin over the new runnerup, Kenseth. He’s 18 points ahead of Brad Keselowski, who ran fourth at Talladega, and 19 over Tony Stewart, who finished seventh and was a victory contender for a large portion of the race.

Harvick came into Talladega No. 2 in points, just five behind Edwards with steady Chase performances. But he was involved in a multicar accident after 107 of 188 laps and was forced to report to the garage area for repairs, including a broken oil line. He finished nine laps down and is now fifth in points, 26 in arrears.

Kyle Busch, 33rd at Talladega after his involvement in a multicar wreck, is presently sixth in points, 40 behind Edwards. Johnson’s bid to win a sixth consecutive title took a serious hit with his 26th-place finish, which puts him seventh in points and 50 out of the lead. Kurt Busch wound up 36th at Talladega, also the victim of a wreck, and he’s eighth in points, 52 down.

The remainder of the top 12 in points has, for the most part, been removed from championship consideration. They are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

“I don’t know that I have ever been so excited about 11th place,” said a relieved Edwards. “This race was one that was nerve-racking for everyone but we came in here with a small points lead and so it was a huge day for us.

“I cannot believe how much Greg (Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing teammate) helped us today. I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day. On the last lap he was driving my car from back there. It is good to get a good finish and even though it is not a win, it is a big battle in the war and a huge day for us.”

Edwards wisely added that although he’s boosted his points lead, competitively, he couldn’t let up.

“We’d have to have a 100-point lead to take a breath,” he said. “Anything can happen. I’m proud of our team, where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come in the last 18 months. We’re doing well.

“But I’m a little nervous about Matt, honestly, because I know how good he is and how good his team is. Having him in second doesn’t make me breathe easier, competitive-wise.”

Despite Edwards’ surge in the Chase, the most compelling Talladega tale was Bowyer’s victory.

The Emporia, Kan., native, who has spent all of his six full Sprint Cup seasons with Childress, finished among the top 10 in points in three of the last four seasons.

But he was 14th when the Chase began this year. And as the season wound down, it became clear that all attempts to secure a sponsorship package that would allow him to remain with Childress were going to fail.

Some lame duck drivers waddle toward the end of a season. Bowyer has clearly not done that.

To win at Talladega, Bowyer hooked up in the draft behind leader and teammate Burton when the race restarted from its ninth, and final, caution period with just two laps to go.

The two were well ahead of the pack when Bowyer made his move, pulling to the inside of Burton on the last lap. Burton retaliated, the two bumped, but Bowyer held on to win by a half-car length in yet another Talladega race decided by a last-lap pass.

“Trust me, I was prepared to push Jeff to the win no matter what the cost was if we would have had people breathing down or necks,” Bowyer said. “It just wasn’t meant to be for him. He’s been a great teammate and I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s already won a lot of races. I think he’s won like 20 or so. I’ve only won five.

“You owe it to your team and to your sponsors to go out and win the race.”

Bowyer quickly admitted he wanted to win to reward the efforts of his team and to indicate he wasn’t going to be the typical lame duck.

“It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard,” he said. “Everybody at RCR, it’s like family over there. It meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal.

“The stars were lined up today with having the hundredth anniversary of Chevrolet on my race car. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s hundredth win.

“I’m excited that it was.”

 

Stewart’s Unexpected Turnaround Comes When Needed Most

Let’s have a quick review here, OK?

It was three weeks ago that Tony Stewart, winless for the season and in danger of not qualifying for the Chase, told us he believed his Stewart-Haas team wasn’t good enough to participate in NASCAR’s “playoff.”

He used words like “struggling” and “miserable” and was understandably surly when asked why he hadn’t won and what would he have to do in order to finally achieve victory.

I daresay any of us would be surly, too, if we were asked the same question week after week.

But now in the Chase, which will determine NASCAR’s Sprint Cup champion, so far we’ve seen such a dramatic change in Stewart’s performance level it’s hard to imagine he’s racing with the same team – you know, the one that was “struggling” and “miserable.”

With his victory in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Stewart has now won the first two of the 10 races that make up the Chase.

He has risen to No. 1 in the point standings in his bid to win a third career title. When the Chase began after Richmond two weeks ago, Stewart was in ninth place, 12 points behind first-place Kyle Busch in the reconfigured standings.

I don’t think anyone thought Stewart could make such a turnaround. Fact is, he wasn’t mentioned in most championship predictions. He was a non-entity – which, incidentally, he may have also thought of himself.

He’s hardly that now.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Stewart said after his victory, achieved when Clint Bowyer ran out of gas with two laps remaining in yet another fuel-mileage race. “The last four weeks have been awesome. So this is the best scenario we can have going into Dover.

“Our guys are pumped up and I am proud of Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and these guys. They never give up. So we are going to keep digging for these next eight weeks.”

Which is exactly what Stewart and his team should do. They have a real opportunity now – just a couple of weeks after nearly everyone else thought they would not.

What has brought about Stewart’s turnaround? It’s not likely that it is any one thing other than the result of a dedicated effort to improve by whatever means possible.

It might have snuck up on a lot of us, but that improvement was obvious over the four weeks of which Stewart spoke.

He was ninth at Michigan and then 28th at Bristol during his efforts to win a race and make the Chase.

Then another ninth-place run at Richmond assured him a berth in the “playoff.” It was followed by his first victory of the season, at Chicagoland where he vaulted to second in points, just eight points behind Kevin Harvick.

Now comes the win at New Hampshire. It means that in the last five races, Stewart has four top-10 finishes, including two victories.

The driver from Columbus, Ind., has always been known to get hot competitively in the second half of a season, but seldom, if ever, has that occurred as late as it has in 2011.

And, during the first part of the year, Stewart dropped to as low as 12th in points when he had a five-race string of finishes no higher that 12th and as low as 34th.

Now, however, Stewart and his team have reached Nirvana – and, it might be added, at just the right time.

Stewart stressed that misfortunes have contributed to the negative results he and his team have experienced.

But, he added, they found a way to overcome that.

“The one thing I think our organization is really good at is taking what we’re doing day-to-day,” Stewart said. “I mean, we don’t lose sight of where we’re at today, worrying about two weeks down the road. 

“We focus one day at a time. Obviously, stuff like the chassis that we’re going to run through the end of the year, Darian has those planned out, but we really just focus on the day that we’re on, what we can do to make the most of that day.”

Stewart also said that racing, NASCAR style, changes week-to-week. He’s proof of that.

He also knows it can change for the worse – and quickly.

I wish I could say you could predict it,” Stewart said. “I wish you could see it coming in the future. The hard thing is, as much as it turned for us, you never know what’s going to happen. We hope the next eight weeks go this way.

“The reality of it is you look at guys that are in the back half of the Chase right now, they’re guys that a lot of people expected to be in the top five, top three in the points right now. It shows that one or two bad days can put you in a bad spot pretty quick.

“As much as we want to sit here and beat our chest and be proud of what we’ve done, and we are proud of what we’ve done these first two weeks, we got eight hard weeks to go.”

He’s right, of course.

And in those eight weeks, there’s plenty of opportunity for scenarios to change.

For example, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished 18th after a mediocre day and bumping incidents with Kyle Busch at New Hampshire, has time to rise from 10th in points – his worst position ever in the Chase – and claim yet another title.

The road could be wider and easier for Harvick, 12th at New Hampshire, and Brad Keselowski, the runnerup, who rank second and third, respectively, in points and are within 11 of Stewart.

In fact, there is a chance any driver currently among the top 12 in points to win the title.

OK, maybe Denny Hamlin, who is 12th in points and having a dreadful season when compared to 2010, doesn’t have much of chance.

Still, any one of them can do what Stewart has done in the Chase’s first two races.

Why not?

Stewart did it when he needed it most.

It seems likely that when he talks about his team over the next eight weeks we won’t hear the words “struggling” and “miserable.”

Richmond Race Ranks As One Of The Best, For Many Reasons

RICHMOND, Va. – The Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway was the most entertaining race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season for many reasons.

It lived up to its billing as a potentially emotion-charged event featuring some edgy drivers. It was also described as a race in which competitors with nothing to lose would entertain fans by taking chances, which they did.

It was characterized, often, as a race that would magnetize our attention because it would determine the starting field for the Chase.

And it was what it has always been: A race conducted on a tough short track that provides singular challenges to competitors. As they attempt to meet those challenges, anything can happen.

Saturday night at Richmond, it did.

Before it was half complete, the race looked like a demolition derby. It was supposed to be conducted by 43 of the best drivers in the world but to many it looked like they failed to show up and were replaced by amateurs.

Perhaps the numerous wrecks, and resulting caution periods, were simply coincidental. But it’s more likely hard racing fueled by daring and even desperation caused them.

It’s a given that for cars to get three abreast at Richmond is to invite disaster. It happened regularly.

Chase scenarios changed with almost every passing lap.

Early in the race it appeared the “playoff” hopes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin – and even Clint Bowyer’s slim chances – were dashed. All three were involved in accidents.

The cars of Earnhardt Jr. and Hamlin were thoroughly beaten up. In fact, over the radio a disgusted and frustrated Earnhardt expressed his anger over his battered car’s performance.

While he was doing that, durned if he wasn’t involved in two more accidents. They were with Travis Kvapil. Kvapil whacked Earnhardt Jr. to create the first and the second? Well, suffice it to say it was payback from the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Earnhardt Jr. might have been frustrated for another reason. As he toiled just to hold his position in the back of the pack, Brad Keselowski, the man who could oust him from the top 10 in points, raced his way into the top 10 – and then into the top five.

For a long time Earnhardt Jr.’s hold on a Chase starting spot was tenuous. The last thing his anxious fans wanted to see was their favorite driver fail in the last race before the “playoffs” begin.

But as the race progressed, Keselowski faded and Earnhardt Jr. – who benefited from three “lucky dog” scenarios that allowed him to regain three lost laps – moved up a handful of positions.

When the race was over, Keselowski was in 12th place, Earnhardt Jr. 16th. Earnhardt Jr. held on to his top-10 position and eked into the Chase.

Keselowski is in as a “wildcard” entry by virtue of his three victories on the season.

Meanwhile, Hamlin, normally a force at Richmond, which is his hometown track, was not a factor, at least as far as victory was concerned.

He persevered to finish ninth and he also made the Chase – as the second and final “wildcard” selection.

For a time, it seemed Bowyer would buck the odds. He was 14th in points going into the race and had virtually no chance to make the Chase.

To do so, first, he had to win. He tried hard as he moved into the top five. But he, too, came up short as he finished 22nd.

As did David Ragan, who also had to win to move into the top 20 in points and made the Chase field with two victories on the season. Ragan also raced into the top five.

But at the finish he was in fourth place and out of the Chase – barely. It was a solid effort.

As if the ever-changing Chase scenarios didn’t make Richmond galvanizing enough, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch got into it again – not once, but twice.

After their run-in, confrontation and name-calling in Pocono, while virtually everyone figured Johnson and Busch wouldn’t have dinner together, they thought the case was closed.

Not so. At Richmond, Busch locked up his tires and slid into Johnson, who hit the wall. Johnson later deliberately clipped Busch’s rear end to cause both of them to spin.

Johnson completed 362 of 400 laps and finished 31st. Busch came home in fifth place. The name-calling continues and folks are eager to see what the two might do over the final 10 races of the season.

Kevin Harvick won the race to earn the second seed in the Chase. The top position went to Kyle Busch, sixth place at Richmond.

The three drivers in the most danger of not making the Chase prior to Richmond did indeed make the “playoffs” – but not, as said, before some very anxious moments.

Tony Stewart, who finished a comfortable seventh at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr., and Hamlin are all in. Stewart is the ninth seed, Earnhardt Jr. 10th and Hamlin 12th, behind Keselowski.

There were times during the Richmond race when it appeared not all of them would advance and would be overtaken by the prodigious efforts of others.

That’s one reason the Wonderful Pistachios 400, nearly always an exciting event on the challenging short track that is Richmond, was more riveting than ever – and one of the best races of the year.

Bowyer Just Might Let It All Hang Out At Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. – It might be fun watching Clint Bowyer race tonight in the Wonderful Pistachios 400 Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

Speaking of pistachios, RIR has a way of attracting unique sponsors, like Wonderful Pistachios and Crown Royal. Now THAT is an appealing combination.

Back to Bowyer. The native of Emporia, Kan., said during his press conference in RIR’s media center that, as far as race strategy goes, well, there is none.

In the position he’s in, both competitively and with the Richard Childress Racing team, there is no reason for it. It’s time to let it all hang out.

“Strategy, hey, it’s full speed ahead,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully, we’ll stay up front and lead all the laps and win the race.”

Uh, Clint, that ain’t original. Heck, every driver hopes for the same thing.

But in Bowyer’s case it’s all a reflection of what he thinks he must do at Richmond, and elsewhere, given the circumstances.

First, his chances of making the Chase aren’t good, which is saying it nicely. Even Bowyer jokingly admits that for him to rise from 14th in points into the top 10 – which is where he must be to enter the “playoffs” – is almost an impossible task.

“Yeah, we had an interesting situation where we had all the scenarios here,” Bowyer said with a smile. “Some mathematician is getting very smart in all the scenarios that he worked out for a press conference yesterday.

“Kasey Kahne and I were laughing. Basically, if everybody fell over dead before the race except for two cars and Kasey was able to beat them, then he was in.

“And then if half of them fell over dead and I won, then I was in.”

By the time Bowyer finished describing this “scenario,” he was laughing – and so were the media present. It was darn good material.

It was also accurate. Bowyer stood at least a mathematical chance of making the Chase until he was knocked out of the race at Atlanta – he finished 36th – after a crash with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Of course, Bowyer was unhappy with Montoya, whom he blamed for the fracas that essentially scrapped his chances for the Chase.

But he was more philosophical at Richmond.

“At the end of the day with the Juan thing, it was a racing deal,” Bowyer said. “There was a lot of frustration there and there was a lot on the line.

“Unfortunately, the guy that had nothing on the line, I felt he could have backed off and give a guy that had everything to lose in that situation a break.

“That’s where my frustration was. But it was my fault. I knew who I was racing with and I pushed the envelope and got bit.”

Also, rumors are building that Bowyer’s tenure with Childress is coming to an end. Even Childress admits it’s not likely a renewal deal with Bowyer is going to be struck. The team’s major sponsors are not returning for 2012.

Bowyer has been linked to Richard Petty Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.

If it is indeed the end at Childress for Bowyer, it’s only logical that he makes it as palatable as possible. That translates into going all out to win one or more races.

“If I don’t stay it would be heart-breaking; a tough deal,” Bowyer said. “That’s family to me and it means a lot to me. I don’t forget where I was standing when I got a phone call to give me this opportunity and change my life.

“But the world goes on. You have to make decisions and those are performance-driven, business-driven, life, family, everything. It is a lot of decisions you go through and everybody goes through those in life. Us racers are no different.”

Bowyer admits it would have been ideal if his situation with Childress had long since been resolved. But since it is not, and he may have to drive for another team, that doesn’t mean his efforts to win should be any less.

“It’s tough in today’s world and you’ve got to be tough as well,” Bowyer said. “The pressure is off now. Now we can go. We can go out and contend for wins for the rest of the season. Sometimes it’s more fun to race under those circumstances.

“It just wasn’t our year. We didn’t do a good enough job and it’s up to us to cap off the season well. Just because you’re not part of the Chase doesn’t mean you don’t go out and try to end the season on a positive note.

“That’s important to me, it’s important to the race team and it’s important to the sponsors.”

He may be out of the Chase (maybe not if some folks keel over) and about to undergo a career transition, but it doesn’t lessen Bowyer’s confidence in himself.

“This isn’t the end of the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of future left in me. I believe in this sport and hopefully it’s right.

“To be honest with you, I’m looking forward to the weekend.”

And I suspect more than a few are looking forward to how hard Bowyer races tonight, the chances he might take and what may result.

After all, the pressure is off.

Print This Post Print This Post