NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer always enjoys coming home to his native state and favorite race track at Kansas Speedway. This time coming home again is even more special because the Emporia, Kan., native is within striking distance in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and he is coming off his third win of the season last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the home track for many of the NASCAR teams.
Kansas Speedway is the sixth stop in the 10 Chase races that will determine this year's champion in NASCAR top racing series. The Kansas City, Kan., race track has a brand new look from the last time the Sprint Cup Series raced there in April. Since the April NASCAR race in Kansas City, the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval layout has been resurfaced, rebanked and reconfigured. The result is a brand new racing surface and higher banking to the 12-year-old venue, which hosted its first NASCAR race in 2001.
"This track went from being pretty abrasive and wearing the tires out to now it's smooth and super fast and the times don't fall far off," four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon said during practice sessions this week for the Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway this Sunday.
Bowyer, who drives the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, currently sits in fourth place in the Chase standings, 28 points behind the leader, Brad Keselowski, with five races remaining in the 2012 Chase. A race win on Sunday in front of the home folks not only would be an especially gratifying personal achievement but also would move him a step closer to claiming the bigger prize of his first Sprint Cup championship.
As exciting as it is to race where you grew up, it also adds a little more pressure than it might otherwise to perform at your best. Bowyer acknowledges that to be true.
"There's pressure no matter where you look in this sport," he said this week. "It doesn't matter what weekend it is, whether it's the Daytona 500, the first race, the fourth race or the last race. There's always pressure to perform, not only for your race team but for your sponsors and everybody involved. I think that's why it's watched and so important each and every week.
"You know, it's important to run good in front of your hometown crowd and in front of your family and friends and everybody that comes out there" Bowyer said. "It's just an important weekend for Carl (Edwards, who is from nearby Columbia, Mo.) and I both. I mean, that's our home track, and I've gotten close a couple times, he's gotten close a couple times. Neither one of us has ever got the job done. So maybe this is the time."
This will be Bowyer's ninth Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. He has one top-five finish and three top-10s, but is still looking for his first race win at the track located a little more than 100 miles northwest of where he grew up. Bowyer started eighth in the STP 400 at Kansas in April, but ended up 36th after encountering engine problems.
Edwards, in his eighth season driving for Roush-Fenway Racing, was midway back in the field to start the earlier race at Kansas Speedway this season, but moved up through the field and finished ninth, his eighth top-10 finish at the track he also calls his home track to go along with four top-five finishes.
Bowyer, in his first season driving under the Michael Waltrip banner, is the first driver from the Waltrip team to qualify for the Chase, and is assured of having the best season of any driver in the 10-year history of Michael Waltrip Racing in the Sprint Cup Series. The highest previous finish was 16th by David Reutimann in 2009.
The two wins for Bowyer outside of the Chase this season were at Sonoma in June and Richmond last month.
In addition to the improvements on the oval track at Kansas Speedway, a new 2.37-mile road course has been added utilizing the infield portion of the facility.
The Hollywood Casino 400 will begin at 12 noon CT and is being televised by ESPN.
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