NASCAR & Auto Racing

Bowyer proving he belongs

in NASCAR's Chase playoff

Things keep happening fast for -- and to -- Nextel Cup driver Clint Bowyer.

In just his second full season in NASCAR's top series, the driver of the No. 07 Chevrolet began this year's Chase for the Cup as the only competitor to make the 10-race championship playoff without having won at least one race this season.

Bowyer had never won a Cup race before opening the Chase with a victory at New Hampshire International Speedway.

But that win was just the start. After a solid 12th-place finish at Dover, Del., Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan., finished second to Greg Biffle at Kansas Speedway and almost certainly would have won if the race had been one lap longer. Biffle was nearly out of gas when darkness ended the rain-interrupted race.

Then, at Talladega, Ala., Bowyer's engine was the last one standing among those built by his Richard Childress Racing team in cooperation with Dale Earnhardt Inc. He made it home 11th at a track where his previous best Cup finish had been 35th.

That leaves Bowyer third in the Chase standings, 63 points behind leader Jeff Gordon, heading into Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"We're not out of this thing by any means," said Bowyer, who knows there are still those who doubt his chances to stay in the title hunt.

"You're still thinking that we're going to bobble and make mistakes," Bowyer said to reporters after his Talladega finish. "And we're going to prove you wrong."

While he and his team, led by crew chief Gil Martin, haven't blinked so far in the Chase, Bowyer, 27, knows this week could be another hurdle for his team. In three Cup starts at the 1.5-mile Concord track, he hasn't finished better than 19th.

"I was reading that Bruton (Smith) might be moving the place," Bowyer joked, referring to the Lowe's Motor Speedway owner's dispute with Concord over plans to build a drag strip. "I'm all for it. Move it to the other side of Charlotte."

If the Chase is stressing Bowyer out, it isn't showing. He's known all along, Bowyer said, how tough this sport can be.

"I've won seven features in a row and backed up with a DNF (did not finish)," he said.

"It's just a very humbling sport. It can show you the highest of highs and drag you down to the lowest of lows the next day."

After bringing his car home in one piece at Talladega, Bowyer talked about how a piece off another car's splitter came up and hit his car, about how wild the final few laps were and about how tense it got with his teammates' engines all failing.

"It was nerve-wrecking," he said. "I kept patting the old girl and praying."

Maybe the pressure will ramp up if he hangs on near the top as the Chase moves into its second half.

But for now, Bowyer is still having fun.

"It's all about parking spots here," he said. Transporters are parked in the Cup garage in the order of the teams' standing in points.

"If it's easy to get to your truck, you know you're doing something right."