MADISON, Ill. – When the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship began five weeks ago, Clint Bowyer was the 12th and final seed.
Now with five races left, Bowyer, 28 of Emporia, Kan., and Clemons, N.C., has propelled himself to third place in the standings, only 78 points behind leader and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and just 10 points down to defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
“It’s just very gratifying to be in the situation we’re in,” he said Wednesday morning during a rain delay while testing his 07 Chevrolet Impala Car of Tomorrow at Gateway International Raceway.
“Going into the Chase, (people) didn’t think we had a chance. That’s just fuel for the fire.”
Bowyer, who races for Richard Childress Racing, is considered a major threat to Gordon and Johnson. Still, Bowyer was miffed at hearing that critics have claimed his team has climbed into the hunt by taking the cautious approach in the regular season.
“I’ve heard people say ‘Is that fair?’” he said. “I was racing under the same rules going into the Chase as I am now in the Chase. They (NASCAR) make the rules and we abide by ‘em. I did what I had to do to make the Chase and nothing more.
“It’s all about being in the Chase and making the Chase. The bottom line is, you’ve got to do whatever you can do to be there, and we were very conservative all season long and did what it took. Now that we’re in it, we’re doing what it takes to try to win the championship.”
Winning NASCAR titles is nothing new for Childress, who won six with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. But Bowyer said Childress is antsy on race day.
“I think he’s more nervous than anybody,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “He almost makes me nervous before the races. He says, ‘Just do what you’re doing. Don’t let the pressure get to you.’ I’m like, ‘You won this six times. You’re supposed to be the calm one.’
“He’s such a huge influence. Him being around and having confidence in me gives me a lot of confidence. He’s a racer. He’s excited about it.”
Nevertheless, Bowyer hopes to keep a level head as the series heads into the final five races. In five Chase races, he has one win (at New Hampshire), two second-place finishes, an 11th and a 12th.
“Of course there’s pressure,” he said. “You’re not 60 or 70 points down to a field filler. You’re 70 points down to Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson in front of you and Tony Stewart behind you (in fourth 198 points from the top).
“It’s going to be a long month. We’re going to have to keep digging hard and keep racing hard, and hopefully at the end of the year, we’ll be on top.”