Bowyer needs big showing in Atlanta
With two races remaining before NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, Clint Bowyer is hoping for a miracle to qualify for one of the six remaining spots.
The top six drivers in the points standings — Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon Bowyer needs big showing in Atlanta — already are locked into NASCAR’s "playoffs.''
While Bowyer is still eligible, he’s currently 12th in the points standings and 22 points removed from the Chase. Back-to-back accidents at Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway all but sealed Boywer’s fate, as he dropped from eighth to 12th place in the standings in three weeks.
And given NASCAR’s new wild-card procedure — where a top-20 driver with a victory can leapfrog over a winless competitor outside of the top 10 — Bowyer is in a very precarious position. Bowyer must win a race to keep 13th-place Denny Hamlin (who won at Michigan International Speedway in June) from earning a wild-card spot or overtake someone who is currently in the top 10.
So what’s the strategy for Bowyer and the No. 33 Chevrolet team?
“Hail, Mary,” Bowyer said. “You drop back, you go for it. I think we’re just going to have to race hard. We’re going to have to get things turned around. We’re going to have to have another opportunity like we did last week, but this time we’re going to have to capitalize on it.”
Bowyer and his team “capitalized” on their opportunities at Atlanta Motor Speedway over the weekend. He was third-fastest in both practices and then posted the second-fastest qualifying time with a lap of 185.922 mph.
“It was an important qualifying run,” Bowyer said. “We’re not out of this thing; we can’t give up on it. And a good qualifying run is a breath of fresh air for all of us. We’ve been struggling a little bit in the qualifying category. We’ve been hitting on some things at these bigger racetracks, so I’m real proud of these guys on the Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet.”
So far the team’s performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a complete departure from last week’s debacle at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Bowyer qualified 16th but finished 26th, two laps down. Jeff Burton, who finished 15th at Bristol, was Richard Childress Racing’s top car that night.
Consequently, Childress called a meeting the next day to assess the situation. Although Bowyer was not in attendance, he referred to the Bristol experience as “the most frustrating thing I’ve ever had in my life.”
“We literally had an opportunity right there in front of us for the taking and couldn’t take advantage of it,” Bowyer said. “It’s just so frustrating as a racer and a competitor to have that opportunity right there in front of you and not be able to capitalize. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Bowyer has posted just one top-five, three top 10s and led just 10 laps in the last 10 races. While Bowyer scored consecutive finishes of second at Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, he’s had just three top fives in the first 24 events along with four DNFs (the most he’s endured since his rookie season in 2006).
But Bowyer is traditionally strong on intermediate tracks such as Atlanta. In 10 starts on the 1.5-mile track, Bowyer has scored five top 10s, including four sixth-place finishes. He has completed 99.8 percent of all laps races and led 58 circuits.
As optimistic as Bowyer is to put his program back on track when the AdvoCare 500 is scheduled to roll off on Tuesday at Atlanta — particularly since he’s in a contract year without a ride for next season — he’s even more jazzed about returning to Richmond International Raceway next weekend where his average finish of 9.5 is his best of any track on the Cup tour.
“Obviously the pressure cooker is heating up big-time,” Bowyer said. “There are two races left to get ourselves in. The weird thing (about Bristol) is that we ran terrible — one of the worst races we’ve had, and we didn’t lose anything. We actually gained a point.
“Richmond is a really good track for us. I’m looking forward to Richmond. I’m looking forward to rolling in there with a chance, and a decent chance. If I can narrow the gap and cut it in half (at Atlanta), I feel like we can go into Richmond and get the job done.”