Originally written on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 10/22/14

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, poses during NASCAR media day at Daytona International Speedway on February 4, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Clint Bowyer is quickly on his way to achieving his most successful season in the Sprint Cup Series to date. At the end of the 2011 season, Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing parted ways, leaving Bowyer with limited options for the 2012 season. Although he was skeptical of his decision, Bowyer signed a contract with Michael Waltrip Racing to drive the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, along side teammate Martin Truex Jr.

At the beginning of the season, no one anticipated the young team to be so competitive, much less make the Chase for the Sprint Cup; but that is exactly what the team did. Not only did they lock in a spot in the Chase, they did it in style, going on to score their second win of the season at Richmond International Raceway.

The No. 15 team overcame a spin just past the midpoint of the race and fought back hard for the win. On Lap 234, contact with Juan Montoya's Chevrolet deflated Bowyer's left-rear tire. Fighting for control, Bowyer spun his car near the start/finish line.

"Thank you, Juan Pablo, for wrecking me and then winning me the race -- thank you!" stated Bowyer in victory lane, who was then in position to gamble on fuel mileage. "We had a bad race last weekend [at Atlanta] and had a lot of adversity we had to bounce through, were kind of bummed out as a team, as a whole, coming into this race.

"It's a good way to get things bounced back headed into this Chase. You can't ask for a better race team, my teammates, MWR, everybody that's a part of this. It's just unbelievable."

Chicagoland Speedway is a great place for Bowyer to start off his Chase for the Sprint Cup. The 33 year-old driver has an average finish of 10.2 over a span of six races, with one top-five and five top-10 finishes. New Hampshire is where Bowyer scored his first career win in 2007, starting from the pole and leading 222 of the 300 laps. He also won that race again in 2010 from a front row starting position.

His average finish for Dover International Raceway is 13.5 with zero DNF’s to date. His best finish at the track is fifth position in the June race earlier this season. Talladega Motor Speedway is normally a gamble for teams, but for Bowyer, his chances might be better than most; he has driven to victory lane twice in the past two years and has finished 11 out of 13 races he's run at this track.

The following six races in the Chase has average finishes of 16th or above for Bowyer. Looking at these stats, Bowyer and his No. 15 team have just as much of a shot as anyone to win the driver and team their first championship.

“Getting in the Chase was goal number one all year,” crew chief Brian Pattie said after his win at Richmond. “Last two months we've just been trying to cruise in. I was calling races probably a little too conservative. You first got to get in before you can play. So now we're in. No pressure.”

When Michael Waltrip started his race team ten years ago, he was barely getting by – scraping enough equipment together for a couple of starts. In 2002 Jerry Nadeau and Kenny Wallace drove a race each for him, as did Buckshot Jones and Mike Skinner in 2003. Over the next three years the team was able to put together four and five races each season, but still ran below mediocre.

In 2007, Waltrip was finally able to run 24 races with Dale Jarrett and 26 races with David Reutimann for Michael Waltrip Racing. Seven years after starting the organization, Reutimann scored the team’s first win and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup by the slimmest of margins. The team has grown tremendously over five years, fielding two full-time competitive teams, one full-time team with multiple drivers, and putting both full-time drivers in the Chase.

"I remember back when Michael first came in. Everybody, including me, was, 'Oh, man, he's bitten off way more than he can chew. He's going to be done before he even gets started, before the end of the year,'" Bowyer said.

"To be able to weather that storm, survive, keep building, acquire a partner in Rob Kaufmann, our other boss, and keep digging, never give up, has finally got him and his organization where they're wanting to be, a part of the board, a part of the crowd in this sport, to have two cars in the Chase, to have those cars locked into the Chase -- and running good!"

Clint Bowyer will have a new spotter when the Chase begins on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Brett Griffin will replace Michael Waltrip Racing general manager Ty Norris, who is stepping aside to focus on the organization having two of its three teams in the Chase.

 

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