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Bowyer makes transition look easy
Who says that racing has to be difficult?
Certainly, Clint Bowyer and his team endured some unexpected setbacks in 2012 — most notably getting crashed with one race to go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and being eliminated from title contention — but those dim in comparison with the successes.
As the year wrapped up with Bowyer celebrating his best points finish, one that came in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing, he seemed pleased overall with the outcome.
Obviously, finishing second overall brings its share of frustration and questions. But Bowyer seems intent to focus on the surprising success of his team.
After spending the previous six Sprint Cup season’s driving full time for Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer made the move to join Michael Waltrip Racing for 2012. He joined forces with crew chief Brian Pattie, and the two bonded quickly.
Bowyer said that, and the level of success they quickly found, helped add to the fun factor for the year.
And why wouldn’t it? After all, it’s easy to find the positives when things are going well. With three wins this season, a year in which he earned 23 top-10 finishes, 10 of them top fives, it was simple to focus on the things that were going right.
“Here’s the thing: I’m with a group that I can really enjoy,” Bowyer said. “We’ve had a lot of success this year. And any time you have success the way we have, you’re bound to have fun and build confidence within yourself.
"It’s all part of it. It’s hard to come out of your shell and be proud when you’re not running the way you feel like you’re capable of running or the way you want to run. I feel like I ran this year the way I wanted to run, the way I was somehow capable of running. It’s super cool to be part of it.”
Sure, he wonders about what might have been. He admits that amends have not been made with Jeff Gordon, who intentionally crashed him at Phoenix International Raceway, but he also thinks that his shot at the title had already passed at that point. He said his real setback was getting caught up in the crash at Talladega and finishing 23rd.
“We got behind at Talladega, and we never could bounce back,” he said. “I knew that was going to be a hard one to overcome, especially as good as Brad (Keselowski) and Jimmie (Johnson) were running. But if you look at the way we ran in the Chase, a bad race was sixth. We were bummed out. When you’re running like that, it’s pretty rare.”
Now, he plans to just see what the team can do better next year.
The team enters 2013 as a group accustomed to working together, one that has found the formula for success. He and teammate Martin Truex Jr. each made the Chase this season — MWR had never had a driver in the title-determining segment before — and gained ground on the competition.
Much was accomplished. Bowyer counts winning at tracks where he previously felt he did not run that well — a road course and a mile-and-a-half oval — as major achievements.
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Plus, as he looks back over the year during this offseason, he can clearly see just how far he and his group have come.
“The key to all of it was having a really good leader, and that was Brian Pattie,” Bowyer said. “I needed somebody that would keep me calm and keep me focused and in the game, and it’s been a great relationship.
"Our backgrounds are a lot the same; the way we go about things is a lot the same. We both enjoy what we do. We love racing, and we have a blast doing this. 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 a great fit, and I think it’s only going to get better and just really proud of how quickly it all came together. And I think it was because of that fit factor.
“I knew from that first test we had — I was very nervous going into it . . . other than a casual conversation, (I) truly didn’t know anybody that was on my race team or in the race shop. To be able to just see all the unknowns and all the worries go by the wayside throughout the course of this year has been a breath of fresh air and a really good thing.”
Now, instead of spending the offseason with a myriad of questions about his team, Bowyer’s biggest offseason question to consider is a simple one: Can he go one spot better in 2013?
“Toward the end of the year, once we were building a notebook and learning from the mistakes we made the first . . . time around to those racetracks, that’s when you really get a sense of what you’ve got for a race team and understanding what you’re up against,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence and a lot of pride knowing what’s in store.”
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