The following story is abridged from an article originally appearing in the July issue of
RACER magazine. To buy a back issue, click here.
Quick: Name the only driver besides defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to finish top five in the point standings in both 2007 and ’08. Jeff Gordon? Nope. He was second in 2007, but seventh last season. Carl Edwards? Not a chance. Edwards has won 12 races in the past two seasons, but was a distant ninth in points in ’07. Kyle Busch? Wild Thing won 21 races in NASCAR’s top three divisions last year, but he’s never finished higher in Sprint Cup points than the fifth place he posted in 2007.
No, the only driver other than Johnson to finish in the top five in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points in both 2007 and ’08 is the man you’re looking at, Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Yes, Clint Bowyer, the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and former dirt-track racer from Emporia, Kan. Yes, Clint Bowyer the unpretentious country kid who grew up a huge Elvis Presley fan and to this day counts meeting Lisa Marie Presley at a Nationwide race in Nashville as one of his biggest thrills.
Now, in just his fourth full season in NASCAR’s top series, Bowyer has been sort of the yin to Kyle Busch’s yang, a virtual polar opposite to The Shrub, and someone ideally suited to NASCAR’s points system, which rewards consistent good over frequent great. And no one (other than Johnson) has been more consistently good in the last three seasons than Bowyer has. While Busch is either winning races or tearing up stuff, Bowyer is remarkably steady: He didn’t have a single DNF in either 2007 or 2008, parlaying consistency into great points finishes.
Even when Bowyer got caught in a lap seven crash at Talladega in late April, his RCR crew managed to get his damaged Chevrolet repaired enough to allow him to finish 39th, in the process setting a NASCAR record of 82 consecutive races without a DNF, dating back to Phoenix in Nov. 2006.
The flip side is that while he is relentless in finishing races, Bowyer doesn’t win very often – just two victories in his first 118 Sprint Cup starts. And that means he doesn’t get the media or fan attention that a Busch or an Edwards does. But that does not necessarily mean that Bowyer is a lesser driver.
“I think Clint is overlooked a lot of times,” agrees Childress. “I think what makes him good is his desire to win. He reminds me in a lot of ways of Dale [Earnhardt Sr.] If Dale had a long day, everybody had a long day. If Clint has a long day, everybody has a long day. Clint is that driven to win.”
For his part, Bowyer knows what he needs to do to be mentioned in the same breath as Busch, Edwards and Johnson: win more races. But is he not winning because of shortcomings in his own abilities or is it something within RCR? “If I knew that answer, I’d be winning,” says Bowyer, wistfully.
“That’s what we’re working on, week in and week out. Crew chiefs with their communication within the organization, within the crews and that feedback back and forth, that’s what we’re trying to get better on. We’re trying to better our engine program. Through this recession and the bad press you see about NASCAR, Richard hasn’t been pulling back. He’s been pushing forward and trying to bring in new people, bring in better people, new ideas – whatever you want to call it – to better our program to where we can win races. He’s a racer.”
Still, although Bowyer isn’t winning as often as he’d like to yet, he’s been as rock solid this season as in years past.
“I feel like it’s something I’m proud of, that we were the only ones other than Jimmie to finish in the top five the last two years, but there are so many things that can happen that go into that,” says Bowyer. “There are a lot of teams that had an unbelievable season and didn’t end up very good in the Chase.”
As for his goals for the remainder of the season, Bowyer wants to step it up this year and finally seal the deal in November. “I’d like to have a little bit better season than we had last year and, just like always, go for the championship in the Chase,” says Bowyer. “But you’ve got to have yourself in position, in contention. Once you go into the Chase, anything can happen. But you need to have a race team capable of winning that championship. You don’t want to make the Chase and just be part of it: You’re out for the Sprint Cup.”
In the meantime, he’s perfectly happy with flying under the radar. “If I get too famous – if I were Dale Jr. – I’d have to make too many appearances,” laughs Bowyer. “I kind of like making appearances at the home front.”Words: Tom Jensen
Photos: Nigel Kinrade/LAT