2007 Ride: No. 07 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2007 Primary Sponsors: Jack Daniel’s, DirecTV
2007 Owner: Richard Childress
2007 Crew Chief: Gil Martin
Stats: 36 races, one win, five top fives, 17 top 10s, third in points.
High Point: Hmm… how about we go with the Chase. For most of the playoffs, the sophomore sensation from Emporia, Kan. nearly fit himself into a Cinderella slipper of epic proportions. The only driver to make the playoffs without a win in the regular season, Bowyer quickly corrected that issue by dominating New Hampshire in September. Taking the checkers in the first race of the Chase – which was also the first win of his short Cup career – Bowyer followed that up with a streak of six more top-12 finishes that left him in contention for the title until early November. In the process, he earned both the respect of his competitors and the media, coming out of nowhere to make the podium in just his first Chase for the Championship experience.
Low Point: Of course, to succeed in the playoffs you must first make the playoffs, and at one point that possibility was called into question for Bowyer. Four straight finishes outside the top 10 led to him falling to 11th in points in April/May; perhaps the worst of his problems came at Talladega, in which he got snatched up in the “Big One” for the third time in three career starts there. Later in the season, a weird incident in which the No. 07 hit a piece of loose equipment from Ryan Newman‘s pit loosened up an oil line at Loudon, dropping him to a 37th-place finish on July 1st. At that point, Bowyer again stood 11th in the standings, just one point in front of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 12th and just 128 ahead of the 13th-place cutoff. He looked vulnerable; but in the end, he was anything but.
Summary: Surely, Bowyer showed promise during a solid rookie season of ’06 – but if anyone told you he’d be the top-finishing RCR driver in their three-car stable the following year, people would have laughed in your face.
Guess Bowyer’s the one laughing at all of us now.
After skidding across the finish line upside down at the Daytona 500 – courtesy of a last-lap wreck which left his car a mess and Bowyer 18th – both driver and team served notice they were significantly better without a yellow stripe. A remarkable run of consistency over the summer months secured the first Chase bid for the Kansas native; in the process, crew chief Gil Martin employed a solid strategy of playing it safe, saving their best for last while doing just enough to make sure the team made the playoffs. It was boring, but effective; and boy, did they let loose when the time came in September. Bowyer’s surprise New Hampshire win and ensuing competition for the title knocked Denny Hamlin off his perch as the best driver from the vaunted class of ’06, as Bowyer’s maturity shined through a period of instant stardom. Ending up third in the standings, the sophomore served notice he’s a quick learner, coming a long way since putting down those Midwestern motorcycles for the glory of stock car racing.
2008 Outlook: With Gil Martin and the majority of the RCR team intact, the future looks bright for this driver on the rise. How well Bowyer does in the regular season will again depend on how much his team lets him press on the accelerator; but the way this car was running by November, they have potential to be a winner most weeks even if they choose to dial themselves back a bit. Of course, once the playoffs come, watch out. RCR’s still got aways to go before they’re up to the standard set by Hendrick, but this team’s got a great chance to lead the “Best of the Rest” category once again if everything can again fall their way. The key to taking the next step will be in how much they confidence they maintain after an ’07 to remember for the No. 07.
“We need to get that cocky attitude,” Bowyer said back in September. “The elite teams have that, you know what I mean? They have confidence going into the weekend that they’re going to run good. Everybody, not just the drivers but also the crew chiefs have confidence in every move they make. I think this team can do the same thing.”
If they do, expect the team to be a darkhorse in ’08.
Quote of the Year: “It was quick. You know, I flipped over, and then here comes the mud. I tell you, if more mud would have come in, I wouldn’t have got out.” – Bowyer after flipping the car in February’s Daytona 500
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B-
2007 Grade: A
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.