By admin | January 15, 2013
By Richard Allen
Throughout the month of January, I will be running a series on the 12 drivers I am predicting to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup during the 2013 NASCAR season. The first eleven articles will be placed in no particular order but the final piece written in the series will be on the driver I am selecting as the favorite to win this year’s championship. Half of these pieces will be placed on my own RacingWithRich.com site and half will be placed on BleacherReport.com. Please consider following along on both websites and adding your own thoughts in the “comments” sections below each piece.
Count this writer among those who was more than a little surprised at the success enjoyed last season by Clint Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing team. Not only was the driver completely new to the organization after having departed Richard Childress Racing the previous season, but his new employer had never really shown the ability to place a car in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The result of the new pairing was three victories, ten top-5s and 23 top-10 finishes. Those impressive numbers sound like they were achieved by a driver from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Roush Fenway Racing, when in fact, those are better statistics than those posted by most of the drivers from either of those organizations. For that matter, they are better numbers than Bowyer himself had ever delivered while driving for RCR.
Even Bowyer admitted his surprise at the team’s success late last season. “Who would have thought in a million years after making the switch and coming over to a new family and everything that was new that we would be in Victory Lane three times and still in contention for a championship,” he said. “Our first year together, just to be able to do that with a brand-new sponsor, a brand-new manufacturer. I was almost uncomfortable going to the shop at the beginning of the year because I didn’t know a face there. To walk into a new family and to be able to have the success we’re having is unbelievable.”
Team co-owner Michael Waltrip told reporters last October that Bowyer had had reservations before joining his organization. “I don’t think Clint wanted to come drive for me,” he stated. “He said, ‘Do you think you’ve got cars I can win with?’ I said, ‘We don’t yet, but we’re building them and they’re going to be great and you’re going to be happy. It was a leap of faith by Clint.”
Bowyer ultimately finished 2nd behind champion Brad Keselowski in the final 2012 Sprint Cup Series standings. The driver of the No. 15 Toyota came into the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 3rd spot of the overall standings but bypassed five-time champion Jimmie Johnson after the HMS driver suffered a mechanical failure late in that race.
Bowyer’s previous best points result had been a 3rd back in 2007 while driving Chevrolets for RCR.
Of course, no matter how good his performance on the track was in 2012, Bowyer’s biggest highlight of the season came when he chased after Jeff Gordon on foot through the garage in Phoenix after the two had come together twice on the track earlier in the day. In reality, the crash that ultimately took both drivers out cost Bowyer the opportunity of going into the Homestead race with a realistic shot at winning the Sprint Cup title.
So now, the focus is on whether or not Bowyer and MWR can follow up on their success of 2012. Was last season a realistic view of what this team can accomplish or was it an fluke?
After an off-season of instability for Bowyer and MWR prior to the 2012 campaign, there has been just the opposite this year. Most of the key players are back in place for the coming season which should bode well for this team. Crew chief Brian Pattie will return to lead the team’s effort in 2013, and 5-Hour Energy will continue to back the team’s Toyotas as the primary sponsor.
Considering that the No. 15 effort got off to a relatively slow start last season then closed out the campaign on a hot streak, the momentum should be in place(along with all the other key elements) to add even more success to their resume. And more, after complaints about engine failures and poor fuel mileage by some other Toyota drivers last year, it is almost a certainty that the manufacturer has gone to great lengths during the off-season to improve both of those aspects of their program. That will ultimately help all those who are supplied by Toyota Racing Development, including the MWR teams.
Clint Bowyer will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff in 2013. But, he is not my pick to win the big trophy.
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