Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Previews, predictions and stats for Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team
There is little doubt that Clint Bowyer surpassed all expectations last year with Michael Waltrip Racing. No one thought that the Kansas driver, who left respected car owner Richard Childress and the loyalty of an eight-year partnership, was moving up a notch.
At best, it looked like a lateral move. At worst, Bowyer was stepping down the rungs of NASCAR’s competition ladder to a team in only its sixth full season of Cup competition, carrying very few results in the name of whatever beverage, outdoor gear or travel he likes to take part in.
Instead, Bowyer’s stock vaulted to all-time highs. He and his first-year band won on a short track, an intermediate and a road course, picking up momentum as the season wore on. In a year without full funding, the team’s success prompted primary sponsor 5-Hour Energy to increase support from 20 races to 35. By the time the checkers fell in Homestead, Fla., the No. 15 team had bagged a trio of wins, 23 top 10s and sat second in the championship standings.
Not bad for a team that essentially didn’t exist one year prior. Ty Norris, MWR’s general manager and jack of all organizational trades, was impressed with how well they jelled in such a short time.
“This group came together very late (in 2011) and overcame a lot of early season adversity,” said Norris, who also spotted for Bowyer’s Toyota. “Once all of the key players learned how to work with each other, this team has been in great form.”
MWR’s performance as a whole may be the best indicator of how Bowyer will fare this year in his bid to replicate and surpass the 2012 effort. Bowyer and teammate Martin Truex Jr. were both featured contenders in the Chase, and the No. 55 car, with rotating drivers Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Waltrip, finished 14th in NASCAR’s owner points. In other words, Bowyer’s success wasn’t due to an all-out push to get his No. 15 toward the front. The entire organization was on top of its game, week in and week out.
“What has been most impressive is the depth across the organization with speed every week, at all different tracks with all three teams and five different drivers,” Norris added late in 2012. “That broad consistency gives us confidence we will be able to continue this trend into the 2013 season and beyond.”
Stability at the organization (all drivers and crew chiefs will return) should help immensely. Bowyer retains crew chief Brian Pattie for a second full year. That surprisingly solid relationship was a question mark entering last season thanks to Pattie being new to both Bowyer and MWR. But there’s no doubting their chemistry now, after a focus on fuel mileage netted the pair at least two wins, countless improvements in track position in others, and building confidence in strategy.
Bowyer’s relationship with 5-Hour Energy continues as well, though not currently at the same level of participation it had in 2012. Peak Motor Oil announced a three-race primary sponsorship agreement, but Bowyer still has about 10 of the 36 races with space available.
That funding, at least in the short term, shouldn’t be a big concern, as there’s enough interest and investment money to keep Bowyer competitive. A slightly larger problem comes in managing an aggressive reputation. After a run-in with Jeff Gordon late in 2012 due to the driver’s continued on-track contact, a once squeaky-clean racing record (Bowyer nearly set the NASCAR record for consecutive races without a DNF) took a hit. This driver, to make it to the next level, needs to refrain from those types of mistakes. Championship contenders can’t afford to have enemies lurking. MWR, in turn, has to answer questions about its mastery of the 2013 car, after it took it six seasons to master the old one. Can the engineers get it together quickly enough to compete this season?
Bowyer certainly believes so. Now firmly entrenched as one of NASCAR’s better drivers and all-around personalities, he has a home that suits his style. So what if the deciding factor was money? It all worked out — he’s a legit title contender who had the foresight to jump off the RCR bandwagon before he was pushed. The move to MWR will be the most defining decision of his racing legacy.
Now who saw that coming?
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
Clint Bowyer is admired as a driver who has risen through the ranks on the strength of his versatility.
“Crazy Clint the running man! Clint has obviously proven, especially after last year, that he belongs in the top ranks of the sport,” one crew chief says. “He is on most everyone’s wish-list of drivers that they’d like to have. He definitely has everything it takes to be a winner. He has mad skills on a lot of different types of racetracks. He’s a racer’s racer. And he runs dirt, as well. Most every time you hear his name, he’s running at some short track somewhere in the country.”
Another head wrench notes that Bowyer’s live-wire personality is fun, but can be a detriment if not contained.
“Keeping him under wraps can be tough. He seems to be a loose cannon as far as his emotions are concerned. He has trouble controlling them sometimes, although it is good to have emotion — and he most definitely lets them out. I love watching that 5-Hour commercial because that is what he is. He’s jumping around like that after the ADHD medication wears off. As long as you can keep that energy under control you’ve got yourself a great shoe.”
Looking at Checkers: Six of his eight Cup wins have come at three tracks: Loudon, Richmond and Talladega.
Pretty Solid Pick: He has yet to break through at Bristol, but he will. You read it here.
Good Sleeper Pick: His win on the road at Sonoma shouldn’t have surprised us, but it did.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Darlington has never been especially kind to Clint (one top 10 in seven Cup stars). Not that she is kind to many others, either.
Insider Tip: He’s a serviceable pick at most tracks, as he’s failed to score a top 10 at only one — Kentucky, and the sample size there is small. In short, if Jeff Gordon feels the score is even, Bowyer can net you top 10 points on any given weekend.
Click here to order the 2013 Athlon Sports Racing annual.