Even with a strong run, Clint Bowyer loses ground
It may seem patently obvious, but you can’t gain ground with a sixth-place finish when the two drivers you’re chasing are finishing first and second.
That’s the source of Clint Bowyer’s frustration. With a strong car and a promising fuel-mileage strategy, Bowyer was a potential race winner in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, but, ultimately, he was no match for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson and second-place Brad Keselowski, who crossed the finish line 1-2.
In his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer held onto third in the standings with two events left in the Chase, but dropped 10 more points to Johnson and fell to 36 back. Barring catastrophes to both drivers ahead of him, Bowyer, who finished sixth Sunday, will have to wait until 2013 for another shot at his first championship.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Bowyer said. “You keep having these top-10 runs, flirting with the top five week in and week out, and, unless you’re winning these races every week, you just can’t gain points. Even if we were winning right now, it ain’t enough to run them down for a championship.”
Bowyer had more than a faint glimmer of hope Sunday, as he watched Johnson and Keselowski battle side by side at the front of the field, precariously close to losing control of their cars.
“I thought they were going to wreck each other, but they didn’t,” Bowyer said wistfully. “It would have been awesome! I really did think they were going to wreck each other.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished seventh, also had a close look at the action between Johnson and Keselowski and was duly impressed.
Earnhardt is Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. It was also Earnhardt who gave Keselowski his first real break in NASCAR when he hired Keselowski to drive a Nationwide Series car for JR Motorsports.
Earnhardt’s loyalties weren’t divided, however, as he watched the action unfold.
“That was pretty crazy,” Earnhardt said. “I was thinking I might have a shot to win if they kept on going like that… but I was glad to see Jimmie take it at the end. What a battle this championship is.
“Brad is putting up an awesome fight. He hadn’t really run good here. His stats were terrible for this place, and they came in and they did their work. They have been real impressive. But I’m a company man, so I’m glad HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) is on top tonight.”
Driving for his third team in less than a year, Kurt Busch can see substantial progress in his relatively short tenure with Furniture Row Racing. In his fourth start for the team, Busch ran eighth Sunday, posting his best finish on an oval track since winning at Dover in the third Chase race of 2011.
"Considering that we had a top-five or top-10 car at the last two races but got nailed in accidents, it was important to come away with a solid finish today,” Busch said. “We've made a lot of progress as a team in a short period of time, which gives us plenty of optimism for 2013.
“However, we still have some handling issues to work out, but we're getting there. This was only our fourth race together, and I’m really proud of how we came back after struggling for a good finish.”