By Chuck Samples
He’s as surprised to be in Sonoma’s Victory Lane as anybody. Maybe he shouldn’t be.
Clint Bowyer may have gotten an extended push (literally) from Kurt Busch on Sunday, but the truth of the matter is he dominated the race. In the process, he notched his first win of 2012, his first on a road course since becoming a Sprint Cup driver and his first for Michael Waltrip Racing.
By the end of the 2011 season, most people saw Bowyer was going to split with Richard Childress Racing, the team that brought Bowyer to NASCAR. Bowyer struggled last year at the same time RCR driver Kevin Harvick was having success, and with Childress looking to groom a family member for time on the main NASCAR circuit, it became obvious Bowyer’s time with RCR was fast coming to a stop.
However, many questioned Bowyer’s move to Michael Waltrip ” basically because Waltrip’s budget wasn’t as big and the team’s success record wasn’t nearly as long. Well, success brings in dollars like nothing else, and that record of success may be in the process of getting reversed on a full-time basis. Bowyer’s win may have been the first for a MWR driver, but it was his ninth Top 10 finish this season and fourth straight. Fellow MWR driver Martin Truex, Jr. is sitting ninth overall.
Think a Kansas boy raised on dirt tracks can’t handle the Wine Country road course? Did you see the bump-and-grind Busch put on him for the second half of the race?
And what about the progress since the team change? Before now, Bowyer had his best run of success with crew chief Gil Martin, who helped him to a fifth place finish in 2008. For whatever reasons, Bowyer’s partnership with crew chief Shane Wilson the past two years was largely marked by setup concerns, crashes and overall bad luck. But he and crew chief Brian Pattie, a castoff of Juan Pablo Montoya’s team, have meshed beautifully. Setup issues haven’t afflicted Bowyer nearly as often as they did especially last year, and Bowyer is now finding consistency near the top of the leaderboard ” both in qualifying and in the races themselves.
And don’t underestimate the intricacies in the switch from Chevrolet, the make Bowyer has been familiar with since he grew up, to Toyota. Familiarity in sports is a big deal, so to put that aside and find success is noteworthy.
Bowyer fans in the Midwest have been hoping the native of Emporia, Kan., would become a consistent force at the top of the Sprint Cup standings. Their wish may be materializing as we speak.
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