Bowyer shows progress entering stretch run
June 27, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Still searching for first win since 2012 but results have improved
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SPARTA, Ky. -- With three top-10 finishes in his last four starts, Clint Bowyer says he believes his Michael Waltrip Racing team is finally ready to start contending once again for wins.
The next opportunity for Bowyer, 35, will come Saturday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
"Hungry for a win," said Bowyer, whose last trip to the winner's circle came in 2012 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"There are obviously a lot of teams that are hungry for a win, but I do believe we're finally poised for a win. At this point in the season we've finally got our consistency back. We've been running way better -- more importantly, way better consistently."
After 16 races, Bowyer is 14th in points, riding the thin edge among those who need a victory or a 16th or higher points position to qualify for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
It took Bowyer and his No. 15 Toyota team six races to score their first top-10 this season (he was ninth at Martinsville), but it's been hit-or-miss for the group in the weeks since. He was dead last at Richmond and only slightly better (23rd) two weeks later at Kansas.
A fourth-place finish at Dover, however, started his current run of four races in which he has finished no worse than 11th.
Bowyer even managed to rebound from a spin and damage last week at Sonoma Raceway to score a 10th-place finish, no easy task on one of the series' two road-course venues.
"Last weekend was a bummer, I think we had a shot at it," he said of Sonoma. "We definitely got ourselves in position and just had a flat tire and then got some help out of the way. That's Sonoma; fortunately for us, it happened early enough that we were able to get back out there and at least salvage a decent finish out of it and keep that consistency going."
Kentucky presents its own set of unusual challenges, most notably a series of bumps on the racing surface in Turns 3 and 4. Horsepower, which appeared to have been lacking in the Toyota camp earlier this year, is less of an advantage, Bowyer said, if teams are not able to apply that power to the ground.
"If you can bounce through it better than the next guy -- all that horsepower and everything that those other guys are enjoying right now -- if you can't put it down to the race track, you won't be able to use it," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to overcome that with handling."
While the track surface at Kentucky is one of the rougher ones on the circuit, Bowyer said it's "probably smoother than any road that you’ve ever been on."
The difference, he said, is that the suspension components in Sprint Cup cars are vastly different from your standard passenger car. "Huge springs and very, very rigid," he said.
"You hear the old lumber wagon -- you've ridden in a one-ton pick-up with nothing in it or not loaded down, and it will bounce you all over the road. It's kind of like that."
As for the importance of a win? Bowyer said he was never one to bang the drum, saying, "It's all about winning," but admitted the focus has shifted if only in part due to the new format.
"You've always been able to race your way into the Chase," he said, "and I think it still will (be the case) today. But right now we need a win.
"We're at the point in our program ... that we're desperately in need of a win and we need to throw it all out there and go for it and try to get ourselves a win somewhere.
"We were definitely in the hunt and after one in Sonoma. We had a lot of confidence going in out there; we had a fast race car and by all means we were chasing a win big time."