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Bowyer exceeds expectations for season

November 18, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Bowyer exceeds expectations for season
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- In first season with Michael Waltrip Racing, driver finishes second In Chase

Clint Bowyer began the race weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway wondering what the previous week had cost him.

He left with a pair of runner-up finishes that left him frustrated and extremely satisfied at the same time. Bowyer finished second in the race to Jeff Gordon -- the driver who deliberately wrecked him in Phoenix the previous Sunday, ending any slim hopes Bowyer had of challenging for a championship -- and that was the frustrating part. But the strong finish, coupled with the trouble five-time champion Jimmie Johnson encountered, enabled Bowyer to vault to second in the final Chase for the Sprint Cup points standings in his first season behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 15 Toyota.

"Maybe we'll be the champions next year. It certainly wouldn't be unrealistic now, I don't think, whereas if I had said that coming into this year, you would have thought I was nuttier than you probably already do."

--MICHAEL WALTRIP

"It's huge. To end up second in the points, I had to beat a lot of guys. I had to beat guys like Jimmie Johnson to do it," Bowyer said. "I just wish there were several races where if I had them to do over again, I could do some things differently. Talladega was one. I just got behind [in the 10-race Chase after starting third and finishing 23rd following an accident] at Talladega and never could really bounce all the way back to get ourselves to be a threat. But we were there all season long. We all had a great year."

Team co-owner Michael Waltrip surprised Bowyer when he grabbed Bowyer on pit road following Sunday's race and told the driver they had finished second in the final standings. But then, Waltrip admitted he was surprised by it as well.

Next season, though, he knows MWR and Bowyer will not be able to sneak up on anyone.

"We exceeded expectations in 2012 at MWR. So you know what you do then? You reset your expectations," Waltrip said. "So we're going to have to say that we'll have to win something next year. Maybe we'll be the champions next year. It certainly wouldn't be unrealistic now, I don't think, whereas if I had said that coming into this year, you would have thought I was nuttier than you probably already do. It's been so fun."

It wasn't much fun for Bowyer a week earlier, when Gordon admitted he wrecked Bowyer on purpose but defended his actions, insisting it was retaliation for Bowyer's transgressions against him earlier in that race and in the season. So when the two ended up running near each other toward the front of the field late in Sunday's race, it seemed more than a little ironic.

Bowyer said he would have liked to have been able to catch Gordon in the closing laps, for obvious reasons but mostly because he wanted to capture what would have been his fourth win of the season.

"We had a decent car. We didn't have the strongest car, but we had a really good car," Bowyer said. "[Crew chief Brian] Pattie, everybody at [Toyota Racing Development] and MWR, they've all worked really hard on fuel mileage, and it paid off at the end there. I just really hate to lose. To anybody. But especially to [Gordon]."

Asked what he would have done to Gordon if he could have gotten to the bumper of the No. 24 Chevrolet, Bowyer grinned broadly and replied, "What would you have done? I'd have done the same thing you would have done. I just wish I could have gotten close enough to him to do something."

* Video: Final Laps | Post-Race Reactions | Press Pass

Waltrip said he did not worry too much about the two drivers tangling again.

"What happened last week still really sucks, but at least we overcame it," Waltrip said. "We thought it cost us a chance at second in the points. We didn't come down here thinking we were going to finish second, but I'll be darned, here we are.

"It was all about points [Sunday], so they raced each other clean. I don't think he would have done anything, no matter what. What happened last week was really off-base, and I didn't think Clint would be worried about that. He just wanted to beat him. There's nothing better to heal the wounds than to win."

The win on Sunday ended up belonging to Gordon. But Bowyer, who admitted he wasn't sure how he would fit in at MWR after spending six full Cup seasons racing Chevys for Richard Childress Racing, dealt with the final results well and looked back on his entire season with satisfaction.

"You just hope to run that good. You hope to land with a good family and a good team. And everybody at MWR is great," Bowyer said. "[Teammates] Martin Truex [Jr.] and Mark Martin and I are fortunate to be able to drive these race cars. They give us good cars each and every week. It's a long, hard road to go through the course of a season. It feels good for it to finally be over with.

"I'm frustrated and bummed out [about Sunday]. I would have loved to have won that race, especially by beating [Gordon]. But to end up second in the race and second in points, it's satisfying."

As he turned to walk away, Bowyer was asked if he had any response to comments Gordon made Friday defending what transpired in Phoenix.

"Who cares? That time will come. We'll meet again," he said.