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Bowyer still having fun as he chases leaders

November 10, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Bowyer still having fun as he chases leaders

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Clint Bowyer knows that if not for Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, his team would be the talk of the NASCAR garage.

When Bowyer, third in points and needing a minor miracle to keep his Chase hopes alive, ran across Johnson in the motor-home lot at Phoenix International Raceway, he had some choice words.

"I've always loved coming to the track, being around the guys in the garage area. But when you're not having success, it's not much fun."

--CLINT BOWYER

"He said a lot of things I can't say on TV," Johnson said with a chuckle. "[It was] something about the rear end of anybody -- and I am that [body] part for winning last weekend. Not the [butt] cheeks, but the other part in his words. [The conversation is] highly entertaining whenever it comes to Clint Bowyer, as we all know."

Bowyer, 36 points behind Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, is smiling as he grits his teeth. As he does all he can to maintain a winning focus, he tries to keep things loose and light, sometimes with comments that extend beyond the realm of PG-13.

"We just have fun," Bowyer said of his exchange with the five-time champion. "Jimmie is just a pain in the butt. He won't go away. I sent him a message after he won Martinsville [two weeks ago], and it was kind of similar along those lines. It's getting down to the end of the year, and [we're] still having fun."

In February, Bowyer only could have hoped for this level of jocularity on the fun meter. He was new at Michael Waltrip Racing and was looking to reassert his excellence after a disappointing 2011 season with Richard Childress Racing.

"Man, I'm telling you, I'm really proud of [crew chief] Brian Pattie and everybody on this 5-hour Energy Toyota," said Bowyer, assessing his first 34 races. "This is a good group. We keep getting better almost weekly, and I feel like if we can't get it done this year, our time is yet to come."

The depth of MWR was evident in qualifying Friday.

Bowyer will start 16th in Sunday's AdvoCare 500, and teammate Martin Truex Jr. will start alongside pole-sitter Kyle Busch. Another MWR car, driven by Mark Martin, rolls off 10th.

Bowyer finds himself rejuvenated by the entire 2012 experience, which has included three of his eight career victories at Infineon Raceway's road course, Richmond International Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also has established career-highs in top-fives (9) and top-10s (22).

"[I didn't have to] relearn to love racing, just to enjoy it again," said Bowyer, who had a top-10 car in Saturday morning's practice. "I've always loved coming to the track, being around the guys in the garage area. But when you're not having success, it's not much fun."

Last season, Bowyer missed the Chase and finished 13th in points after failing to complete six of the season's first 28 races.

"I got to the point where I was miserable coming to the race track," he said. "To be able to be back running how we used to run my first few years in Cup Series [third in 2007, fifth in 2008], it's a breath of fresh air. Everybody is pulling in the same direction and, more importantly, enjoying themselves."

So, what remains Bowyer's greatest challenge?

"Beating the 48 [of Johnson] and the 2 [of Keselowski]," Bowyer said. "That seems to be the biggest challenge every week. We've been really close. We've done it a couple times, but not very often."

Last week's race at Texas Motor Speedway was a prime example.

Bowyer finished a respectable sixth but lost ground in the Chase. Johnson, winning from the pole for a second consecutive race, outscored him by 10 points. Keselowski, finishing second, outscored him by five.

It all leaves Bowyer on the outside looking in, unless major adversity afflicts Johnson and Keselowski in the final two races.

"We've got to be there for the taking [if that happens]," Bowyer said. "We certainly don't want to wish bad luck on anybody, but for us to be able to close the gap in this deal, it's going to take good performance by us and some bad luck from both of the guys in front of us.

"Even if we aren't able to close the deal, it would be nice to win one of these last two. We'll be shooting for that. Our car is fast. We're doing things right. We just have to do what we can do."

And that includes keeping things loose.