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Clint Bowyer 2013 preview

January 21, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Clint Bowyer 2013 preview
After big leap, Bowyer hopes to take another step

Coming off a season in which he finished second in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series points battle, it’s not surprising that Clint Bowyer has high expectations heading into 2013.

Clint Bowyer

No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota

2012 rank

2nd

Team

Michael Waltrip Racing

Crew chief

Brian Pattie

Biggest change for 2013 is...

Perception. There will be no more flying under the radar for the No. 15 team, which caught a lot of folks offguard in 2012.

Watch out for...

Call it the sophomore jinx. Bowyer and the team established several high marks in their first season together. Can they do it again?

Will win the title if...

His team adapts to working with new car quickly and he can avoid those pesky DNFs.

2012 was...

The team doesn’t suffer a letdown from its 2012 success and Bowyer manages to avoid another four-DNF season.

Bowyer, 33, says he knows what it will take for his Michael Waltrip Racing team to keep contending on a weekly basis, something the No. 15 accomplished last year.

“We’ve just got to continue to improve,” said Bowyer, an eight-time winner in the Cup series. “That was the one think that I felt like (crew chief) Brian Pattie and everybody … did all season long.”

Continued improvement was evident for the group, with Bowyer tallying eight top-10 finishes -- including one victory -- in the 10-race, season-ending Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“We picked our program up in a big way and elevated our game,” Bowyer said. “Me in the race car, us working together, our chemistry and Brian calling races. I see that same thing starting out this year.”

After a six-year stint at Richard Childress Racing that produced five Cup wins and three appearances in the Chase, Bowyer departed for MWR, hoping to help elevate that group’s program. Fellow former RCR employee Scott Miller also made the move, taking the role of executive vice president of competition.

The results were telling. Bowyer won a career-best three races, returned to the Chase and was a title contender until the season’s final event.

Likewise, other MWR programs picked up the pace. Teammate Martin Truex Jr. also qualified for the Chase, and the group’s third team -- featuring Waltrip, Brian Vickers and Mark Martin in the driver’s seat -- finished the year with a combined 16 top-10s.

Starting the 2013 season strong will be crucial, Bowyer said.

“You’ve got to get that confidence and momentum going early,” he said, noting that drivers and teams have only “one opportunity” to win the season-opening Daytona 500 -- the Sprint Cup Series’ biggest event -- “but also you’ve got to get the season started out right and take care of business points-wise and things like that. It’s crazy you think about that at Daytona, but you do.”

With the introduction of the Generation-6 car, teams have been scrambling to build new cars for a season-opening stretch that features four very distinct tracks, ranging in size from Daytona’s 2.5-mile layout to Bristol’s high-banked 0.533-mile oval. Pattie says the timing is the same for everyone, and he’s confident that by the start of the season, his team will be in good shape.

“Obviously this is the first new car that we’ve had in quite a few years,” he said. “Don’t take that the wrong way; being behind is not a bad thing when you have new cars. It’s just that we’re not where we were 12 months ago as far as prepping for Daytona, but we will be.”

By the time the Daytona 500 is in the books, he said, “we should be in really good shape.”

Bowyer credits Pattie with keeping him “focused and in the game” in 2012.

“It's just been a great relationship,” Bowyer said. “Our backgrounds are a lot the same. The way we go about things is a lot the same. We both enjoy what we do and we love racing.

“More importantly, when it's time to get your hands dirty and get to work, we're both plenty capable of doing that, too. It's just a great fit and I think it's only going to get better.”

See the full schedule of our top 12 Sprint Cup Series drivers and read more below:

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11. Martin Truex Jr.

10. Jeff Gordon

9. Tony Stewart

8. Kevin Harvick

7. Matt Kenseth

6. Denny Hamlin

5. Greg Biffle

4. Kasey Kahne

3. Jimmie Johnson

2. Clint Bowyer

1. Brad Keselowski