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Happy Hour: Two-horse race? Bowyer begs to differ

November 03, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Happy Hour: Two-horse race? Bowyer begs to differ

FORT WORTH, Texas -- If, as many people are suggesting, the list of candidates for this year's Chase election is down to two -- Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski -- somebody needs to make sure Clint Bowyer's name is on the ballot. And Kasey Kahne's as well.

He may be 26 points behind with three races remaining, but Bowyer isn't about to step up to the podium and deliver a concession speech before Sunday's 500-miler. In fact, unless it pertains to deer hunting, any opening remarks to that effect have yet to be put onto paper.

"There's not only myself -- Kasey [Kahne] is right behind me -- and there's still 10 other guys in this campaign, too," Bowyer said. "The focus is on that championship and those two guys are neck and neck. Certainly one little slip-up on either one of their parts, then Kasey or I can be right there for the taking."

Texas

Race Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. G. Biffle190.382 28.364
3. Ky. Busch 190.128 28.402
4. C. Bowyer 190.067 28.411
5. M. Truex Jr. 189.994 28.422
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.J. Johnson186.86428.898
3.D. Hamlin186.06629.022
4.G. Biffle185.95029.040
5.C. Edwards185.31229.140
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.C. Bowyer184.19329.317
3.M. Kenseth184.18729.318
4.J. Johnson184.05529.339
5.C. Edwards183.83029.375

The first few laps of Saturday's final practice session at Texas Motor Speedway looked like a high-speed imitation of the current point standings. While Keselowski stalked Johnson by following his No. 48 Chevrolet around the track, Bowyer was right behind, pursuing both with particular urgency.

Johnson then returned the favor late in the session, dropping behind Keselowski to watch what line the No. 2 Dodge was taking in the growing shadows and cooling conditions.

Bowyer knows he has a fast car, and he proved it again Saturday by turning the second-fastest lap of Happy Hour -- 184.193 mph, just a tick faster than Matt Kenseth's 184.187 mph. Keselowski's 184.300 mph topped the leaderboard, while Johnson was fourth at 184.055 mph, the only other car to break into the 184 mph bracket.

It's no secret in the garage area that Bowyer is confident and loose, a dangerous combination for anyone potentially guilty of overlooking the dark horse candidate -- not that he particularly cares, to be honest.

"The good news is that we've been solid, we've won on a mile-and-a-half track like this, we're getting good fuel mileage -- we're doing all the right things," Bowyer said. "We just have to see it through and see what happens.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but it really doesn't matter if the focus is on me or not. We have fun and go about our business the way we're going to go about our business and enjoy ourselves. It doesn't matter."

Denny Hamlin's misfortune at Martinsville one week ago certainly caught the attention of the two drivers at the top of the standings. Their advantage over Bowyer and Kahne may look like plenty of breathing room right now, but Johnson is well aware that one broken switch, one miscalculation or even one mistake in judgment could result in major upheaval.

"I feel like if Brad [and I] both have a mid-pack finish, it really opens this thing up at this point," Johnson said. "A finish in the 20s -- something like that -- and man, this thing is real tight. ...

"Clint is a serious threat. So is Kasey. Those guys have been very strong. I think both have shown their best in the Chase and have really delivered and stepped up. I'm glad that we have a gap over those guys."

And there's the difference. While Kahne, Bowyer and Keselowski search for a first Cup title, the guy out front has five trophies at home and is spoiling for a sixth. That definitely doesn't make Bowyer's task any easier.

"I've been in it before -- it's the same old Chase," Bowyer said. "Same races, same race tracks and same guy you're trying to beat for the championship. It's damn sure the same Chase.

"It's amazing how much more competitive it is each and every year. 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. It just keeps getting harder and harder and harder."

Kansas was a perfect example of why overcoming Johnson's lead will require a combination of smart driving, sound strategy and a smidgeon of bad luck for the No. 48 team.

"They are so solid," Bowyer said. "We saw it at Kansas. About the time you think, 'Oh boy, they've done stubbed their toe now,' they had a hell of a Band-Aid and got it fixed right back up.

"I think he finished right behind me and its 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."

Even if Bowyer can't put much of a dent in Johnson's lead this weekend, he hopes to leave Texas with a chance. He admits he's almost giddy every time he gets to the track, because he can't wait to see what might happen next.

"Anything can happen," Bowyer said. "Three races is still a lot of racing. You can go into Homestead 20 points out and win this thing. You never know what's going to happen."