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Bowyer Hopes The Frontrunners Will Stumble

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 2 2012

Clint Bowyer doesn't want anything really bad to happen to Jimmie Johnson. Just something that will cost him a lousy finish or two over the coming weeks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Clint Bowyer concedes that, yes, Jimmie Johnson is the favorite to win the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver’s championship.

“Same old Chase. Same races, same racetracks and same guy (Johnson) you’re trying to beat for the championship,” said Bowyer, referring to NASCAR’s 10-event/12-driver playoff. “It’s damn sure the same Chase. But anything can happen. Three races (remaining) is still a lot of racing. You never know what’s going to happen. Anything can happen.”

As in…please, let something happen to Mr. Five-Time…

“Well, Jimmie wasn’t in New York when (Hurricane) Sandy hit – he was in North Carolina – it looks like he made it (to Texas),” Bowyer joked during a particularly animated media session Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. “So, scratch that from the list of ideas possibly that I could win this championship.

“I think (hiring a) hit-man is probably out of the order. He rides his bicycle a lot…I was hoping maybe he would blow his knee out or something. Nothing career-ending or anything. Maybe painful – something painful to keep him out of the car.”

Dean Winters-style “Mayhem” aside, Bowyer acknowledged that if point runnerup Brad Keselowski or himself or fourth-place Kasey Kahne is to overtake JJ, that guy simply will have to outrun the Hendrick Motorsports superstar and his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Impala.

“You have to beat him,” said Bowyer, who trails Johnson by 26 points and is 24 behind Keselowski of Penske

Jimmie Johnson knows how to operate with a points lead in the Chase. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Racing. Kane, Johnson’s HMS teammate, is 29 points behind the leader.

On cue, Johnson qualified on-pole Friday afternoon with a hot lap around TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval of 28.261-seconds at 191.076 mph. He will share the front row with Greg Biffle, who clocked in at 190.382 mph in the No. 16 3M Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. Bowyer will start fourth after lapping at 190.067 mph while Keselowski will roll off eighth after a lap at 189.534 mph.

“That’s what makes this sport what it is,” said Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing. “It’s incredible the job they (Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus) do each and every year and it’s a challenge for everybody to try and outrun him. They are so solid. We saw in Kansas – about the time you think, ‘Oh boy, they’ve done stubbed their toe now,’ they had a helluva Band-Aid and got it fixed right back up. I think he finished right behind me and it’s like, ‘How did they possibly do that?’ That’s what it takes to win a championship and if we do that, it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Johnson salvaged a ninth-place finish in the Hollywood Casino 400 on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway on Oct. 21. Without help, Johnson spun on Lap 135 of the 267-lapper and slammed the Turn 4 wall backward. Johnson’s crew scrambled over the car in the pits, hammering out the damaged sheet metal and covering the car with BearBond adhesive tape.

Bowyer, meanwhile, finished sixth in a race won by fellow-Chaser Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway Racing. Johnson trailed Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger, by seven points after the race in Kansas. Johnson followed with a victory in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday. Keselowski’s sixth-place finish – one spot behind Bowyer – left him two points behind Johnson.

“We came up a little bit short in Martinsville,” said Bowyer, who saw Johnson lead a race-high 193 of 500 laps around the paperclip-shaped oval. “We had a good car and did the best we could, just unfortunately lost a few points there. Nonetheless, we have to make up for it here in Texas. We’ve got three races to go and everyone is still set on ‘kill.’ We just have to get out there and see what we’ve got for a race car. We won in this car at Charlotte (Motor Speedway on Oct. 13) and that gives me a little bit of confidence knowing that the car can certainly get the job done. Let’s see if the driver can do it again.”

Bowyer, who qualified for the Chase in the sixth spot, has reached a season-high in the standings at third during his first full season with Waltrip’s organization. Bowyer spent the previous six full seasons of his Cup career driving Chevrolets for Richard Childress Racing, a multiple championship-caliber organization.

His biggest surprise at MWR this season? “Success,” said Bowyer, a 33-year-old native of Emporia, Kan. “I’m not going to lie – he (Waltrip) was probably right. There was so much potential there. You saw the potential and saw what could be. If everything played-out and the plan played-out and the talk – if they could back up the talk, it was

Martin Truex Jr, Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer have had a terrific season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

going to be what we’re seeing this year. That’s just been the case. It’s been above-and-beyond.”

Bowyer is teamed with Cup veteran Mark Martin, driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, and rising star Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 56 Carlyle Tools by NAPA Toyota.

“Everybody – teamwork is the biggest word of our year,” said Bowyer, winner of eight Cup events in his career. “It’s just incredible how everybody works together. Everybody is on the same page and everybody pulls for one another and we get good results because of the teamwork that we have within MWR all across the board. Our partnership with TRD (Toyota Racing Development) continues to get better and better. Just everybody within MWR has really elevated their game in a huge way.”

Still, Bowyer admitted this Chase has been the toughest of the four in which he has participated. “It’s amazing how much more competitive it is each and every year,” Bowyer said. “We’ve been solid. We’ve been more solid than I think I’ve ever been in the Chase and still we found ourselves losing points and it’s just incredible to me how competitive this sport is.

“Proud of Brian Pattie (crew chief) and everybody on the 5-hour Energy Toyota _ they have done such a great job all year long. We’ve had so much fun this year. It’s amazing to see the smiles on everybody’s faces. This time of year, it’s winding down and everybody is starting to get over it, usually about 15 races ago. This group just keeps digging and pushing harder and having more fun. That’s what’s cool about being with my guys.

“I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at this early (juncture) together. It’s just neat and it almost makes you giddy coming to the racetrack. The worry is the farthest thing from your mind when you come to the racetrack. I know – I’ve been in this sport long enough to know that it can flip at any minute, but right now I’m enjoying the ride.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 2 2012
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