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Year in Review: Bowyer's second-place finish is best he's ever had

December 17, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Clint Bowyer had three wins in 2012, including during the Chase race at Charlotte, where he historically had struggled. (Autostock)

Year in Review: Driver finishes career-high second in his first season with MWR

The enduring image from Clint Bowyer's 2012 season will be that of him sprinting from pit road through the garage area at Phoenix International Raceway, seeking retribution from Jeff Gordon, who had just crashed his championship hopes.

But Bowyer would prefer to recall what he accomplished in his first season at Michael Waltrip Racing: winning three races and finishing behind Brad Keselowski when the final Sprint Cup standings were tabulated.

"It's neat to see how everything came together this year," Bowyer said. "It's huge to end up second in points and beat guys like Jimmie Johnson to do it. I had such a great year, and I hated that [incident with Gordon] happened at the end."

Clint Bowyer

2012 statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-Fives64
Top-10s158
Poles00
DNFs22
Laps Led185203
Avg. Start15.26.7
Avg. Finish11.59.4

"To be able to see it all come together, to see that all play through, is truly a dream come true."

--CLINT BOWYER

Bowyer, 33, needed a second-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to nip Johnson by one point for second in the standings, a ranking that surpassed what Bowyer or his bosses anticipated in his first year driving Toyotas with MWR.

"We exceeded expectations in 2012 at MWR," team co-owner Michael Waltrip said. "So you know what you do then? You reset your expectations. Maybe we'll be the champions next year. It certainly wouldn't be unrealistic now. ... If I had said that coming into this year, you would have thought I was nuttier than you probably already do."

For his part, Bowyer wasn't completely sure what to expect in his first season with Brian Pattie as crew chief and Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin as teammates.

"I didn't know a face I was working with, other than casual conversation," Bowyer said. "I didn't truly know anybody that was on my race team or in the race shop."

Bowyer felt certain the MWR cars would be strong, but how consistently strong?

"Everything that Michael, [MWR general manager] Ty Norris, Toyota and [Toyota Racing Development] sold me on quickly became reality, turning our first season together into the best year I've ever had," Bowyer said at the championship banquet in Las Vegas.

"You just hope to land with a good family and a good team. We had good cars each and every week. I'm proud of everybody on the team at MWR. We were there all season long. ... To be able to see it all come together, to see that all play through, is truly a dream come true."

Bowyer put some demons to rest in his seventh full season in Sprint Cup, winning his first Cup race on a road course at Infineon Raceway and winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track where he historically had struggled. He also won the Chase cutoff race at Richmond.

Bowyer saved his best for the Chase, at one point leading five consecutive races during the 10-race playoff. Prior to his Richmond victory, when points were reset for the Chase, Bowyer had ranked no higher than sixth in the standings.

He failed to finish four races in 2012 and lamented several where points got away.

"Talladega was the biggest one," he said. "We just got behind at Talladega and never could really bounce back."

His 23rd-place finish at Talladega dropped him from 25 points behind the Chase leader to 40 points back. The late-race incident with Gordon at Phoenix relegated him to a 28th-place finish that mathematically ended his hopes to catch Keselowski.

Pattie, who had helped Juan Pablo Montoya to his only Chase appearance in 2009, seemed to click with Bowyer from the start, even before checkered flags began to come their way.

"The key to it all was having what I consider a good leader, and that guy was Brian Pattie," Bowyer said. "I needed somebody to keep me calm and keep me focused in the game. We both have a blast doing this. More importantly, when it's time to get your hands dirty and get to work, we're both plenty capable of doing that.

"It's just a great fit, and I think [our combination] is only going to get better. I'm just really proud of how far we came."

The 5-hour Energy team improved as the season unfolded. Prior to his victory in Sonoma, the 16th race of the season, Bowyer had led only six laps all season. Still, he wound up with 10 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes.

In the end, the 2012 season rekindled Bowyer's love affair with racing, while his hard-charging attitude won new fans for MWR and the No. 15 Toyota.

"I've always loved coming to the race track, being around the guys in the garage area and having fun," Bowyer said. "But when you face it, when you're not having much success, it's not much fun. ... I got to that point. I was miserable coming to the race track. To be able to be back, running where I feel like we're capable of running, it's a breath of fresh air."

Watch all of Bowyer's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.