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Bowyer Feels Moving To MWR Is A Safe Bet

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 4 2012

Clint Bowyer helped open the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway on Friday. He did so as a new member of Michael Waltrip Racing. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Speedway)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Clint Bowyer thought it hilarious that the great blackjack hands he was pulling at a Kansas City casino last Thursday were somehow succumbing to even better hands on the part of the dealer. He did, after all, walk away from the table at the end of the day with a nifty net gain of $5.

He was still laughing about his lousy luck the next day as he waited in a restaurant at another casino – the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway – for that new facility to hold its grand opening.

Some are thinking that that ability to keep smiling in the face of a lost gamble will serve Bowyer well as he begins his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing. They are thinking that because it’s their opinion that leaving sturdy, stable Richard Childress Racing and signing with a team which has a grand total of two Sprint Cup victories is a case of Bowyer gambling with his career.

Bowyer, he laughs at that stuff, too. He believes he has hooked up with a winner, albeit just a winner in the making at this point.

Last season, the MWR cars – with Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann driving – finished the year by showing some strength. Reutimann, who will not be back with the team in 2012, finished in the top 20 in four of the last five races. And Truex finished in the top 10 in four of the last five.

Showing that late-season muscle, the 32-year-old Bowyer said, “was another huge step for them.”

Down the stretch Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer came at Talladega last October. Bowyer got the victory for Richard Childress Racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

And, he said, “They’ve got pretty much a full stable now.”

Taking up residence in the MWR stable are new people, equipment and methods.

In addition to Bowyer in the people department, MWR has added Mark Martin to drive part time and, most importantly for Bowyer, Scott Miller as competition director.

Miller and Bowyer worked together at RCR – the team for which Bowyer raced six full Cup seasons and won five races – the last several years. Worked together well.

“I’ve said it from Day 1,” Bowyer said, “the thing that makes me most comfortable is having the same mentality, the same thought process competition-wise and having Scott Miller there. That’s been a big help for me, going through such a big change. I got a familiar face there. I know how he thinks. I know the direction he goes and that’s helped me through the off season with understanding the direction they’re headed and being on board with it.”

Bowyer’s new crew chief will be veteran Brian Pattie, who last worked for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as crew chief for Juan Pablo Montoya.

Bowyer said there was instant chemistry between Pattie and him.

“Holy cow,” Bowyer said, “I’ve had so much fun with him. It’s been a pleasant surprise how well he and I

Clint Bowyer says the pieces are in place at Michael Waltrip Racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

have already worked together. Our communication’s been great. Probably better than I’ve ever had. That’s so important in this sport.”

Also raising hopes – and expectations – around the team is an agreement between Toyota Racing Development and Joe Gibbs Racing’s engine department which will have them working more closely together. That could mean a quicker understanding of the new electronic fuel injections systems and, hence, stronger engines for the Waltrip Toyota Camrys.

“TRD has been interesting to work with as we work on this EFI stuff,” Bowyer said. “Fuel injection, it’s opened up another option and I think the sport was ready for another option. We were almost tapped out as far as changes and things that would separate you from the crowd.

“This EFI thing, there’s a lot of changes right there. Believe it or not, it could affect the outcome of the race and it’s going to be interesting to follow that throughout the season.”

Bowyer has been in his new cars several times during the off season for tests. Lots of tests. From plate-racing tests at Daytona to short track tests at Mark Martin’s New Smyrna paved oval in Florida.

And?

To start with, things were different, Bowyer, who earned three Chase appearances and a Nationwide Series championship for the Childress team, admitted.

“The biggest think is, when you’ve only been with one organization for your whole career, anything different is wrong,” Bowyer said. “You know, you see them scale the car differently, and I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s not right.’ You get to looking at it, looking into it, you’re like, ‘I guess you’re doing the same thing, just doing it different.’ So, a lot of that. It kind of catches you off guard. Those are the kind of things you have to adapt to and understand.”

And quickly. Speedweeks is just a couple weeks away.

Bowyer said he is hopeful that on-track success will come fairly soon for him and MWR. But he is also realistic. He said his cars were just OK on the big tracks during testing. But he said they were great on the short tracks and it would be on those that his best chances for early success would reside.

Bowyer’s move to Waltrip was an odd one. With his sponsor leaving RCR, and with team-owner Richard Childress’s grandsons – Ty and Austin Dillon – showing huge promise in lesser series, Bowyer was forced to look elsewhere. He scoured the job market in 2011, his last year under a RCR contract, but with the economy still in tatters and with all the seats at top-tier teams were filled, MWR became his best option.

And a big challenge.

“This is an opportunity to prove myself,” the native of Emporia, Kan. said. “Michael, (team co-owner) Rob Kauffman, Scott Miller, drivers, crew chiefs, everybody understands we’re not where we want to be. Not where I expect to be, not where a guy like Mark Martin expects to be.

“But I feel like all the pieces are coming together. They’ve made the right investments, this is an opportunity for them as well. Everybody in the business has pulled back, let people go. I see this as (MWR’s) chance to catch up. They see that. They’ve got the capital behind them to see that through. That’s what excited me going around looking for a job. They were the only ones pushing forward and had the funding to do it.”

Still, for a guy who got used to competing for victories and, even, championships, the move from RCR to MWR has to be considered a bit risky. A gamble.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 4 2012
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