Clint Bowyer must be brimming with optimism.
After all, the personable driver heads to Talladega Superspeedway with as much going for him as possible.
First, he's with the revamped Michael Waltrip Racing team that has taken the racing world by surprise with its dramatic climb in performance this season.
Second, he's a stellar restrictor-plate racer. People might not hear Talladega and think Bowyer (since most are too busy considering Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s potential for the weekend), but they should. After all, Bowyer has finished no worse than second in his past three NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the track.
Bowyer has six top-10 finishes in his past eight races there. Sure, he has moved from Richard Childress Racing to the Waltrip organization this season, but that apparently does nothing but bolster Bowyer's potential Sunday. In the season-opening race, at sister restrictor-plate track Daytona International Speedway, Bowyer was 11th -- right between teammates Mark Martin (10th) and Martin Truex Jr. (12th).
Overall, Bowyer is having a solid year, too. He's 12th in the standings with four top-10 finishes -- and has looked even stronger in races from time to time.
Truex, too, brings renewed confidence to the track each week now. He certainly should. This season, he has looked capable of winning almost every week. He has six top-10 finishes in the nine races and has finished as high as second. Prior to last week's 25th-place finish at Richmond -- his team's worst performance of the season -- he had a five-race stretch of top-10 finishes. He heads the race Sunday at Talladega fifth in the standings. For Truex, that 178-race winless stretch seems on the verge of ending.
Truex is quick to pass around the credit for his resurgence this season. He points out the hard work the team put in during the offseason, the impact of crew chief Chad Johnston and new teammates Bowyer and Martin, and just a general overall boost in the organization.
"Really, every part of the company and how we're doing things is different than it used to be," Truex said. "We've got a lot of great people, lot of great drivers and crew chiefs. The teamwork has been outstanding. So there are a lot of reasons. Not just one reason, but really just have to credit everybody at Michael Waltrip Racing for the job they're doing."
Suddenly, Truex is expected to be a factor every week.
So the pair head to Talladega feeling strong and certainly up to the challenge.
Bowyer sees a lot of factors coming into play to make a strong run at Talladega -- especially now that drivers will be racing in the larger packs once more instead of in two-car tandems.
Still, there is a lot that remains outside of one's control in the restrictor-plate race. One driver's wrong choice can ruin the day of several others who pile into a crash not of their own doing.
"It seems like with the two-car tandems, you could manipulate that a little bit more," Bowyer said. "You could control what was going on and have a game plan and see it out more than you do now. It seems like if you get behind, you can be the best driver in the world with the fastest car. If the hole's not there, you can't make one. If they're three- and trying four-wide in front of you and you've got a big head of steam coming, there is nothing can you do but check up and fall back in line.
"It is kind of a difficult situation, in my opinion, riding around there on your own. Obviously, as a race car driver, you want control all by yourself. But I kind of liked the teamwork and working with each other and getting the most out of each other and making a game plan, and working on it, perfecting it, and seeing it play out at the end. It was pretty fun and gratifying for me."
Now, even a driver who seems to have perfected racing at this track -- and the art of staying out of trouble -- admits that it's not clear what the racing will hold this weekend.
Bowyer expects it to be close to the racing seen in the season opener at Daytona earlier this year, though with a wider track that offers more room to move around. The temperatures will also be higher, a factor that will alter the cars as well.
It really will be old-school racing -- the kind seen at Talladega for years with those packs of cars swarming around the high banks of the track.
"I think we're going to see a giant pack," Truex said. "I think all 43 cars, or however many are running at the time, will be in one pack. It's just hard to say exactly how it's going to go down. I don't think the two-car tandem will be like it was last year with the cooling-system regulations and all the things that they did at Daytona.
"With the temperatures approaching 90 degrees down there this weekend, I don't think we'll see a lot of two-car racing until the end. Even then, I don't think guys can go more than three or four laps.
"I think it's going to be a mix of pack racing, a little two-car tandem here and there, but there's no way we'll stay hooked up all day like we did last year."
On Sunday, the strategy will play out quite differently than it did with the two-car tandems working together lap after lap.
"It's kind of every man for himself," Bowyer said. "You get yourself in the right situation and be lucky enough to get the right push and, hopefully, be there at the end of that thing."