2012 Ride: No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry
2012 Primary Sponsors: 5-Hour Energy for the bulk of the season, as well as Aaron’s and Alabama Crimson Tide at Talladega in May and a special 5-Hour promotion for its pink lemonade flavor in late fall.
2012 Owner: Michael Waltrip
2012 Crew Chief: Brian Pattie
Stats: 36 races, three wins, 10 top-fives, 23 top-10s, four DNFs, 388 laps led, 2nd in points.
Best Finish: 1st, three times (Sonoma, Richmond – September, Charlotte – October)
Average Finish: 10.9.
2012 Team Ranking: No. 1 out of three at Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer was the class of the field at MWR, though he was joined in the Chase by teammate Martin Truex Jr., who finished 11th in the overall standings. A third team was split by Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip and fared well in the owners points standings, placing 15th.
High Point: Can you pick simply one? Many didn’t expect Bowyer to contend for wins in 2012, and yet he picked up three. Best of all was his final victory, coming at Charlotte in October, which established the driver of the No. 15 as a big threat for the championship, even if he came up short by season’s end.
Low Point: After run-ins and flaring tempers, Bowyer was wrecked by Jeff Gordon during the season’s penultimate race at Phoenix, mathematically ending his chance to win the championship. Though it would have been a tall order to defeat Brad Keselowski had he not crashed, Bowyer was nonetheless ousted not because of car issues or a crash of his own doing, but rather due to circumstances outside his control once he and Gordon made contact. Talk about a bummer to end the season.
Oh, and then there was the time his car wouldn’t start during the Victory Lap on the Las Vegas Strip during Champion’s Week.
Summary: Downgrade. Career suicide. Those are just a few of the words some used to describe Bowyer’s move to Michael Waltrip Racing during the 2011-2012 offseason. After all, Bowyer was coming from Richard Childress Racing, regarded as one of the series’ elite, to drive for a team that had managed two wins in its lifetime. But as MWR turned around its program to become regular contenders, the Kansas native put up his best results ever, including the most wins, top-fives and top-10 finishes of his career in a season.
Bowyer’s season got off to a slow start, with just one top-five and three top-10 finishes in the first eight races, but the driver of the No. 15 kicked things into gear around midseason, following three straight top-10 finishes with a win at Sonoma. He was rarely out of the top 10 from then on, suffering only six such finishes following his first win and propelling himself into the playoffs. Bowyer’s Chase was, again, sturdy, with a win and eight top-10s, but it wasn’t enough to unseat Keselowski from the top of the standings come Homestead.
Off-Track News: After scoring a victory in the 2011 iteration of the Prelude to the Dream, Bowyer could not defend his title in the race, finishing a distant 19th after wrecking with Kasey Kahne while battling for the lead.
2013 Outlook: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: that seems to be the motto around the No. 15 team for 2013. Little will be changing with the team next year, aside from three races sponsored by Peak Motor Oil (a snazzy-looking car, at that!). Thus, there’s no reason to believe Bowyer can’t follow up his dream 2012 with an even better 2013, this time taking his team all the way to the championship. Brian Pattie returns atop the pit box, and Michael Waltrip Racing is making minimal changes to its organization as well. If he can avoid some of the sub-20th finishes that he experienced during the season’s second half, he should be very much in contention for Waltrip’s first series championship by Homestead.
2011 Frontstretch Grade: B.
2012 Grade: A. Bowyer did more than was expected of him in 2012, not only contending for and winning races but also coming close to claiming the season’s biggest honor, the championship. Taking a team which had experienced only moderate success in prior years to a powerhouse contender is quite worthy of such a grade.
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