NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer

2010 Ride: No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2010 Primary Sponsors: Cheerios/Hamburger Helper, BB&T, The Hartford
2010 Owner: Richard Childress
2010 Crew Chiefs: Shane Wilson, Scott Miller (during four-race suspension in October)
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 2 wins, 7 top fives, 18 top 10s, 3 DNFs, 0 poles, 10th in points

High Point: Bowyer’s win at Talladega Superspeedway had to feel good. Bowyer — arguably one of the most underrated restrictor-plate drivers in NASCAR — led 19 laps en route to a victory where the winner wasn’t known until several minutes after the checkered flag flew. On the final lap, a caution flag came out as the leaders were entering turns 1 and 2, leaving Bowyer side-by-side with teammate Kevin Harvick once the field was frozen.

It took several video replays and a long conference with NASCAR officials in the tower Bowyer was finally declared the winner, inching out Harvick at the moment the yellow light illuminated on-track. It was sweet redemption for the No. 33 bunch, the over-the-wall crew still stinging from being ditched by Harvick two weeks prior while the rest were still smarting from a harsh penalty issued shortly after the start of the Chase. Speaking of which…

Low Point: Following a race win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in which Bowyer broke an 88-race winless streak, NASCAR issued a penalty to the No. 33 team that would act as the nail in the coffin for any championship hopes they might have had. Following a private warning a week earlier at the Richmond race that their cars were dangerously close to tolerances, NASCAR took Bowyer’s winning Chevy back to their R&D center for further inspection and found the car to be less than 1/16 of an inch outside of tolerances.

Bowyer and Richard Childress were docked 150 driver and owner points, respectively, while crew chief Shane Wilson and car chief Chad Haney were suspended six weeks. Wilson was also fined $150,000. The team argued vehemently that the car, out of gas at the checkers, wound up out of tolerance due to the tow truck pushing it to victory lane, denying being brazen enough to ignore officials’ warnings and continue being dangerously close to out of tolerance.

But in the end, their side of the story – which included an accident reconstruction specialist to help prove their case – ultimately fell on deaf ears. While a final appeal to NASCAR’s Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook had the fine reduced to $100,000 and the suspensions reduced from six to four weeks, the points deduction would haunt Bowyer and company the rest of the season. For those who love “woulda, coulda, shouldas,” without the penalty Bowyer would have been fifth in points, 317 out of the lead. And who knows what would have happened had that penalty one race into the playoffs not derailed his momentum?

Summary: All things considered, 2010 was a good year for the fifth-year veteran. Yes, the penalty and long appeals process rained on his parade, but compared to 2009 it was a significant improvement. Consider that after winning one race in 2008, Bowyer went through all of 2009 without a victory and failed to make the Chase for just the second time in his short career.

Though the team struggled with consistency at times this season, they had the speed to be competitive and potentially contend with the likes of teammate Harvick, eventual champion Jimmie Johnson and several others. Bowyer’s two victories in the last 10 races actually served to double his career total.

Team Ranking: Bowyer was second out of his three RCR teammates. Harvick finished third and Jeff Burton finished 12th. Even without the penalty, Bowyer was still behind Harvick in both on-track performance and off-track hierarchy within the rebuilding organization.

2011 Outlook: After a successful but painful year, a fresh start in the standings is just what this team needs. Based on his last few performances at restrictor-plate tracks, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Bowyer come out of the gate and win the season-opening Daytona 500. Most of the pieces are back in place, including crew chief Shane Wilson, and the resilience they showed through the 10-race playoff should serve them well.

Though I’m not expecting him to be an outright contender for the title, he’s a good darkhorse pick to be right up there when the checkered flag falls at Homestead. They just need to make sure the tow truck doesn’t hit them on the way!

2007 Frontstretch Grade: A
2008 Grade: A
2009 Grade: B-
2010 Grade: A-

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