Bowyer Set For Big Return After Having To Drop Back, Punt
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
In recent years, Richard Childress Racing could be counted on to put most or all of its drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Last year, all three RCR drivers made the cut and grabbed the fourth, fifth and sixth positions with Kevin Harvick leading the way. The year before, all three were in the Chase as well with then-Chase newcomer Clint Bowyer leading the way with a third-place finish.
So far this year, RCR looks like an entirely different team, and the picture isn’t all that pretty. With four drivers now in the stable, including long-time member and solid Chase racer Jeff Burton plus RCR newcomer Casey Mears, the win column shows a zero after 16 races.
The points picture isn’t too rosy either. Burton leads the team, but he’s just 15th. Bowyer is 16th, Mears 21st and Harvick 25th. With Mears 300 out of 12th place and Harvick 380 back, it looks like RCR will do well to have half its contingent in the Chase.
But if there’s panic setting in, it wasn’t evident when Bowyer appeared on a NASCAR teleconference on Wednesday. He was his usual upbeat self and sounded like he was pretty sure he’d make the cut for the 10-race, season-ending Chase, which begins after 10 more regular season races.
It’s plenty possible. He’s just 65 points out of 12th place, the final spot in the elite points group. And a lot can happen in a 10-race stretch, as evidenced by his skid in the past 10. After the sixth race of the season, at Martinsville, Bowyer was second behind Jeff Gordon in the standings.
Bowyer said he believes he and his team are back on track, so to speak.
“I think we have stopped the bleeding a little bit,” he said. “We got going the wrong way in the points there and stopped the bleeding, got things pointed back in the right direction.
“I think we have got four top-12s here in a row, so definitely got the consistency back that we are made out of and hopefully we’ll start our march back into inside the Chase here in the next few weeks.”
Bowyer pointed out that all of his points losses aren’t related to problems with the speed and handling of his No. 33 Chevrolet.
“I crashed a car in Talladega and got caught up with [A.J.] Allmendinger at Darlington,” he said. “That’s 250, 300 points that we got wiped out from right underneath of us there within a month, and it takes a while to get those points back.”
Some in the sport have wondered whether the addition of the fourth Cup team at RCR has hindered the overall effort. Bowyer said the opposite is true.
“If anything it helped,” he said. “It’s given us a lot more inside information as a group, as a whole, that we can lean on.”
He attributed the poor results to “kind of chasing down the wrong path” with the set-ups and construction of their cars.
“Kevin [Harvick] last year at the end of the year was really running good, and they were on some drastically different things … so we all kind of over the off-season put a lot of our eggs in that one basket, hopefully that being the answer for the year starting off strong.
“It just wasn’t. So we have had to drop back and punt so to speak. We have had to come back and cut our cars up and change front clips, change body designs around, aero designs around, whatever the changes were. It takes time to get those all acclimated and back in place as a group and as a whole so we can all get back to running well.”
Bowyer said that with the Car of Tomorrow, a team doesn’t have to be off much chassis-wise to go from being a front-runner to a back marker.
“Just the least little bit is huge,” he said. “Once we get spread out, we are all basically running the same speed anyway. The leader might be a tenth to half a tenth faster, and that’s nothing.
“If you are off the least little bit, it just shows up big time on Sunday. So we are having to look at all of our programs, whether it be aero, engineering, chassis, engines. We have had to pick the pace up in all of those areas just the least little bit…
“You can’t just look at the new engine and say, hey, give me ten horsepower and I’ll start winning races again. We fell behind, and you have to push and encourage everybody in all those areas to help pick your end of the deal up.”
And he’s confident that when the checkered flag falls at Richmond, his mid-season slump will be old news.
“We have got ten races left, to be a part of this Chase,” he said. “I feel like we are starting to run good at the right time.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment