The only thing missing from Clint Bowyer’s short Nextel Cup Series career is a victory.
It doesn’t appear even that will prevent him from challenging for his first series championship.
With two races remaining before the field is set for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, Bowyer is entrenched in the ninth position in points. The top 12 after 26 races qualify for the Chase.
“As long as we keep doing what we are doing, top-10s or top-15s on the outside, they can’t catch us,” Bowyer said.
“If we scratch, break or something like that, they win and we have a 40th-place finish, they will catch us pretty quick. “We just have to stay focused and honed in on what we can control. If we do that, we will be just fine.”
Bowyer, 28, lacks a win in NASCAR’s top series, but as long as he remains in the top 12 in points, wins don’t matter. He is the only driver in the top 12 without a victory.
That has not stopped drivers from chasing the title in the past.
Last season, Bowyer’s Richard Childress Racing teammate, Jeff Burton, qualified for the Chase, but didn’t earn his first win until two races into it. He ended up finishing seventh in the standings and already has a win this season.
With some modifications to the Chase rules this season, wins have taken on greater importance. When the Chase field is set after the Sept. 8 race at Richmond, Va., the 12 drivers will be reseeded based on their number of wins.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead the way with four wins apiece. Were Bowyer to remain winless, he would start the Chase in the 12th position.
That still leaves him with a reasonable chance at earning his first championship in just his second full season, particularly if he maintains the consistency that has helped him so far this season.
Through 24 races, Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan., has 12 top-10 finishes – more than five other drivers with wins – and two top-fives. He is coming off a third-place finish at Bristol, Tenn., his best career Cup finish.
“Bristol has always been good to me, believe it or not, so we’ve got to just keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve got to turn the corner, got to make that next step, and I believe we can do that.
“When we do, we’ll be a championship contending team.”
Even without the elusive win – Bowyer earned his first pole this season at Darlington, S.C. – he believes he’s made significant improvement over last season.
“It has been a lot more fun. I am still learning every week,” he said.
“Definitely, I have found myself in some situations where I was a little bit unfamiliar, but nonetheless, I have a good team behind me, everything is going well and we are having fun this year.”
“So, you have to get that first year in and then (pull out) the ‘to do’ list. Until then, we just have to get into shape. That is what this series is all about. That is the biggest part of our year.”
Bowyer’s entry also would mark another milestone for RCR. Last season was the first any RCR teams had qualified for the Chase as Kevin Harvick and Burton made it. This season, RCR could see all three of its teams contending for the championship in the final 10 races.
“I’m not going to count on that just quite yet until it’s over, but it’s exciting,” Bowyer said.
“Everybody on the (team), everybody at RCR – this is what everybody goes to work for. All three cars are hopefully headed that way.”