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Bowyer Left To Ponder What Might Have Been

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 3 2010

Clint Bowyer celebrates his victory last Sunday at Talladega. It was his second victory of the Chase. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

For those doping out Clint Bowyer’s victory last Sunday at Talladega on a what-might-have-been basis, the first stop would have to be numbers.

Just do a little adding and then some subtracting and you have the points position Bowyer would be in today had he not been been issued the death penalty after the Chase-opening Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

Simple and easy. But probably deceptive.

That kind analysis leaves out the human element. That is, it leaves out what could be the most important element.

See, the penalty not only cost Bowyer a huge block of points, it cost him his “mojo”, he says.

Bowyer as, many remember – and Bowyer will never forget – sprang from being the darkest of horses for this year’s Sprint Cup championship to the coolest of story lines at New Hampshire.

After going winless in the regular season and then holding off Ryan Newman down the stretch, Bowyer earned the final Chase berth.

When the race in Loudon started, Bowyer was 60 points out of first place in the reshuffled standings, and he was hardly considered a threat to end Jimmie Johnson’s reign of plain.

But late on the afternoon of Sept. 19, Bowyer got his first victory, soared to second place in the Chase and suddenly became – simultaneously – a great story and solid threat. The former body shop worker was just 35 points out of the lead when he left New Hampshire.

Two days later, he became a footnote. His car was seized by NASCAR and torn apart. it was discovered that it was out of spec. Barely out of spec.

He was penalized 150 points, his crew chief, Shane Wilson, was suspended and his team was effectively neutered as a Chase threat.

The next week at Dover, Bowyer and his Richard Childress Racing team finished 25th, prompting two things; detractors to scream, “See, the guy sucks in a car which is not cheated up’, and Bowyer to disappear as a story.

Until Talladega and his victory.

That victory did two things; Show the world that Bowyer could win in a legal COT, and prompt the question of what-might-have-been.

The numbers say of the latter thing: Not much.

Thanks to the Dover result and a 38th-place finish at Martinsville, Bowyer, had he not been penalized, would today be fifth in points and 217 behind Johnson.

That is, he would still not be a threat to Johnson, second-place Denny Hamlin and third-place Kevin Harvick.

But auto racing is not just about numbers and cold, metallic machinery. Human beings drive those cars and Bowyer is a human.

After winning Sunday, Bowyer was asked if the penalty did more than simply rob him of points. Absolutely, he said.

The penalty, he said, “Took the wind out of my sails. The two races after that whole mess, it was a disaster. If we had that back, we were along our normal routine, I don’t think we would have had those bad runs that we’ve had. It’s pretty uncharacteristic of our race team to have those two wins here in the Chase and then three really bad races.”

Bowyer had been smiling and saying the right things through late September and October, but inside, he was cursing.

The cause, of course, is a penalty which many around the sport still do not feel was adequately explained by NASCAR.

“So it has been very frustrating,” he said Sunday. “Haven’t had much to look forward to. Didn’t have much to look forward to, other than the fact I knew my race car was very, very fast going into this race.”

But not just a fast race car but a favorable schedule.

“If that hadn’t of happened at New Hampshire, you would have had your normal deal, what got us there. I always look forward to the Chase because these are some of the best race tracks for me. You go back and look at my stats. These are good racetracks for our race team and for me as a race car driver.”

Now, he will be driving some of those best without a hope of winning the championship and also wondering all the time about what his 2010 Cup season might have been.

“I’ve thought that ever since the penalty, to be honest with you, Bowyer said. “To win the Chase, the opener at New Hampshire, then have the penalty, ever since then it’s just kind of been a pretty rocky road, truthfully not much to look forward to. You lose your crew chief, mojo, pit crew, everything is tumbling down. To win a race got things back in the right direction, where they needed to be.

“We almost won California, too. We would have won three races. The greedy side of me wants to think of that. We almost won three out of the seven Chase races, and were pretty darn close to doing that.”

Just think how Bowyer will feel if he wins at Texas this Sunday.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 3 2010
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