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Bowyer Is Racing To Forget At New Hampshire

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 16 2011

Clint Bowyer talked to reporters Friday in Loudon. He did not really want to talk about last year, however. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Clint Bowyer was cruising along nicely with his blase, that-was-then-this-is-now attitude as he talked about the penalty he incurred after the Sprint Cup race in Loudon last fall when suddenly, the wound opened.

One too many questions about it, apparently.

“It is what it is. It doesn’t matter,” Bowyer said of the penalty during an interview at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Friday. “It’s behind me, it really is. It’s frustrating for me to have to come back here and answer questions about last year because I’m worried about last week, and overcoming last week. Forget about last year.”

Forgetting about last year is obviously tough for lots of people. Probably because the 2010 Cup championship may have been radically affected by the penalty Bowyer was dealt after the fall race at NHMS.

That race was the first of the the Chase. That makes it big. Major momentum in the playoffs goes with a good finish. And Bowyer got a great finish. He won and was instantly a favorite. Or so he thought as he and his Richard Childress Racing team headed off property at New Hampshire.

A couple days later, Bowyer and owner Richard Childress were told they were being penalized. The race-winning car – which had passed post-race inspection at the track –

Clint Bowyer was ecstatic after winning at New Hampshire last fall. Briefly. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

was found to be illegal during a secondary inspection conducted back at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.

Barely illegal.

Bowyer kept the victory and the trophy, but was docked 150 points. Good-bye second-place, good-bye momentum, good-bye all hopes for winning the championship and, apparently, good-bye winning attitude.

The next couple races, Bowyer ran horribly. He finished 25th and 15th respectively at Dover and Kansas the next two weeks and not even a second-place finish at Fontana in the fourth race of the Chase and a victory at Talladega in the seventh, could move him back into contention.

While it is what it is, it is also stuck in the Kansas native’s gut.

“The biggest thing that I don’t understand about it,” Bowyer, who a couple years ago stood in the infield at Daytona kicking away red-faced at the crumpled fender of a car that finished very well but not wonderfully well, said Friday, “is that it passed post-race inspection and it gets back to something that nobody understands or knows a lot about; which is fine. I was OK. A penalty is a penalty and if you’re caught, you’re caught. It doesn’t matter what I think at the end of the day.

“Kyle Busch was low at Pocono; and I know the significance of what that does for a race car. And it was a lot more than 60 (thousandths of an inch out of tolerance). That’s the way that I look at that and he got a slap on the wrist and we got pretty much a season-ending penalty.”

With that, Bowyer waved the issue off. Again. He has the trophy and besides, he said,

Clint Bowyer and driver Shane Wilson have to figure out how to get back to top 10 this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

he’s got right-now problems.

And that he does. He and his team have blown through the substantial Chase-making capital they had amassed earlier in the spring.

Ten races ago, Bowyer was having a good season and appeared headed to easy entry in this year’s Chase. A sixth-place finish at Richmond in late April, which came on the heels of back-to-back runner-up finishes at Texas and Talladega, had moved up up to seventh in points.

But his fortunes then stalled out. He got streaky. Then, finishes of 36th and 35th the last two races – at Daytona and Kentucky – dropped him out of ninth place and into 12th. He is now 15 points out of 10th.

With eight races remaining before the start of the playoffs, the former motorcycle racer-turned body shop worker turned top-tier Cupper, needs to saddle up.

Asked how one goes about doing that, Bowyer said, “You go straight to the race shop and try to get to the bottom of it and try to help them figure out the problem. And that’s where I’ve been all week. That’s what you do. You’ve got to get back to work and you’re as big a part of that as anything.

“Obviously they don’t know the answer or they would have had it fixed. So you’ve got to go back there and communicate week by week; going back through the weeks and try to go through them one by one and hopefully through communication, you trip something in their mind that says oh man, we went in the wrong direction there. And first don’t make that mistake again and secondly even improve on it. So that’s what I do. I think that’s what the key is, it not letting it spiral out of control.”

The Loudon flat track would appear to be a good place for Bowyer to regain control.

He’s won twice there and has four top-10s in 10 starts.

“We’ve always run well in a short flat-track program,” Bowyer said, “but there’s nothing

Clint Bowyer won and then lost last fall at New Hampshire. He's trying to forget all about that this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

to say as things quickly evolve in this sport, there’s nothing saying that that we’re not going to bring that same recipe back that we did last year and find that same success. We’re going to have to work hard. We’re going to have to find a good balance on our race car; no different than we always do. But it seems like it’s easier to find that balance for us on a track like this.”

After Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, the Cup teams take a weekend off and then head to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400 and then, it’s August. Time to move, Bowyer said.

“Oh, this is a crucial time for us,” he said. “We’ve got them breathing down our necks and we’re still within reaching distance of the cars in front of us, so this is a good time to get things pointed back in the right direction points-wise. But I tell you, with this crazy Wild Card thing, this is a good track for us to get a win and solidify ourselves in the Chase. So it’s an important weekend for sure.”

The weekend has gone well for Bowyer so far. He was fastest in Friday’s first practice and then qualified 12th for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

On Saturday morning, he was second-fastest in practice behind Tony Stewart.

A victory on Sunday would go a long way toward burying bad memories which have obviously haunted Bowyer for the past nine months. As long, that is, as a penalty is not issued to him next Tuesday.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 16 2011
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