NASCAR's Clint Bowyer likes his chances in Chase race No. 7 for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday at venerable Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway. We've heard that a lot lately from the driver of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota. It's good that he feels that way, but the native of Emporia, Kan., is going to have to do more than talk his way to the championship with just four races remaining in NASCAR's version of Major League Baseball's World Series. Only in NASCAR there are 12 competitors vying for the title instead of two.
Bowyer raced at his favorite track, Kansas Speedway, last weekend. The Kansas City, Kan., 1.5-mile oval is located just 100 miles northeast of Bowyer's hometown. After posting his third Sprint Cup win of the season the week before at wide-open, crash-prone Talladega, Bowyer was hopeful that the momentum and mindset of coming back home to race would give him the added boost to draw closer to Chase leader Brad Keselowski in the standings.
In qualifying for last Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Bowyer brought the Michael Waltrip Racing 15 car in third, but he wasn't able to capitalize on that starting position, ending up sixth in a race in which the cars were extra fast on Kansas' newly resurfaced pavement but were slowed by a track-record 14 cautions.
Bowyer has been able to gradually cut into Keselowski's lead, reducing a 40-point deficit from two weeks ago down to 25 with just four more races to go this season. The native Kansan is going to have to win one or more of the final four races at Martinsville this weekend, followed by Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. Bowyer must finish much higher than Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who sits in second-place, seven points back of Keselowski, in all of the remaining races.
Bowyer has never won at Martinsville, which is celebrating its 65th year of operation this season, and his average finish in 13 races there has been outside of the top 15. Nevertheless, he likes racing at the half-mile paperclip oval and says he feels increasingly more comfortable there. The most historic venue on the NASCAR circuit, Martinsville is the only short track among the 10 Chase for the Cup race venues.
"Believe it or not, I think Martinsville is a track where we can win it all," Bowyer said in a recent conference call with members of the media. "We just keep getting better and better (at Martinsville). I've gotten a lot better there over the years.
"We've built a brand-new race car that we have a lot of confidence in, and I'm really looking forward to Martinsville to hopefully get us another win," he said.
In the Cup race this spring at Martinsville, Bowyer was among the leaders for the better part of the race, and even had the lead for a brief stint. He made what turned out to be an over-aggressive move late in the race, getting in between Johnson and Jeff Gordon in a push to get to the front. Going three-wide didn't work out on that occasion, and the ensuing track chaos pushed the No. 15 car back to 10th to finish the race.
Bowyer is going to have to stay aggressive and get some luck on his side if he really expects to stay in the championship hunt and pick up enough ground to make it really interesting by the time the race for the Chase reaches Homestead-Miami three weeks from now.
The Tums Fast Relief 500 gets under way at Martinsville Speedway at 12:30 p.m. CT on Sunday. The race will be televised on ESPN.
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