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Could Bowyer Be Working Class Hero Cup Needs?

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 7 2012

Clint Bowyer, some say, has a touch of Earnhardt in him. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Watching fans file past the press box at Talladega Superspeedway makes one wonder which of the Chase contenders would be able to bring back the blue-collar fans who have deserted NASCAR in recent years.

Talladega was and is Earnhardt country, as Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. have been strong on the track and with fans for years.

But Kyle Petty said on last Sunday’s “Wind Tunnel” program on SPEED TV that there’s another guy out there who could reach the kind of fan who likes to camp around a fire at the track rather than sit in a luxury suite.

“Clint Bowyer would be the best champion,” he said, explaining that Bowyer, a two-time Talladega winner, is “the guy with some personality who would have a good time and have some fun.”

Petty went on to say that he believes the sport has become sterile and that few of its main players have interesting personalities or backgrounds.

He said the recent champions haven’t been able to help attract the numbers of fans NASCAR once had.

“Jimmie [Johnson] was the champion for five years,” Petty said. “Did the sport grow in that five years? I don’t think so. Tony Stewart was the champion last year. Did the sport grow?”

He said Bowyer would be different, especially when it comes to reaching out to the sport’s long-time fan base. He described Bowyer as “that blue-collar guy to bring the sport back to the Earnhardt era, the Richard Petty era, to that older deal when fans really are interested in the drivers.”

Bowyer said he appreciated Petty’s remarks.

“It certainly makes you proud that somebody who has been around the sport as long as Kyle and seen a lot of the championships that his dad won would speak kind words of you,” he said. “It means a lot.”

And Bowyer said Petty was right about the kind of champion he’d be.

“We’d have a lot of fun and it would certainly be a neat deal,” he said, adding that his career path is a throwback to the early days of the sport. “A kid growing up in the Midwest, racing on the dirt tracks, working in a body shop when he got the call,” he said. “It’s a pretty good story.”

Bowyer’s first superspeedway race is a good example of the kind of story fans love to hear.

It was at Nashville Superspeedway in 2003 in an ARCA event. He ran an old hand-me-down Cup car, with Trent Owens as crew chief and a few friends from home for a pit crew.

Bowyer qualified seventh and soon found himself among the leaders. Even after the race had started, Owens didn’t have enough crew members on hand to make a respectable pit stop. Volunteers were recruited including a reporter standing nearby who agreed to reach over the wall and retrieve the front tire off the right side, then roll a fresh one to the changer as he removed the old left-side tire.

Despite the slow stop, or maybe because of it, Owens left Bowyer on the track when the rest of the leaders made their next stop, and the rookie took a lead he held for 47 laps before Mario Gosselin, riding on fresher tires, overtook him in the closing laps and ruined the Cinderella story.

But the story wasn’t over with the checkered flag. Richard Childress was watching the race on TV, and as they say, the rest is history, with the final chapter yet to be written.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 7 2012
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