NASCAR Sprint Cup championship runner-up Clint Bowyer says he never imagined his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing would be so successful.
The 33-year-old signed a three-year deal to drive Waltrip's No. 15 Toyota Camry late last year, having previous raced for Richard Childress Racing since 2004.
Partnered with veteran crew chief Brian Pattie (with Bowyer, ABOVE), Bowyer was competitive through most of 2012 and was a title contender up until the penultimate race at Phoenix, where Jeff Gordon deliberately crashed into him and dashed his hopes.
A second-place finish at the season finale at Homestead – coupled with Jimmie Johnson's retirement – enabled Bowyer to move up to second in the final Cup points standings, something he never envisaged even just a few weeks ago.
"When we made the Chase, my realistic goal was to be in the top five," he said. "I thought that was a reachable goal for our race team the way we had been running into the Chase, and to exceed that... you just can't ask for more than that out of a brand-new group like that. I'm very proud of their efforts."
Bowyer added that his team's competitive form this year makes him very optimistic for 2013.
"I'm super-excited about how far we've come in a short amount of time," he said. "We've learned a lot about each other, and I think we're going to be even better next year."
MWR had never managed to get a driver into the Chase prior to 2012, when both Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. reached the title shootout. Bowyer's runner-up finish eclipses the third place in the championship that he managed with Childress in 2007.