CONCORD, N.C. -- Rivalry, what rivalry?
Clint Bowyer insists there isn’t a rivalry between Jeff Gordon and himself. Although the two tangled on the track at Phoenix and their crews later brawled in the pits, Bowyer said it was merely one blip on the Sprint Cup Series’ 38-week race schedule.
“The thing is it never was a rivalry,” said Bowyer at the 31st annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “That’s what caught everybody off guard with that deal. There’s certainly been a lot of great rivalries over the years. The media made it a bigger deal than I ever thought it was. I have fun and enjoy this sport. I like being a part of it. Last year was a lot of fun. I only had the one not-so-fun weekend. If you can only have one not-so-fun weekend, I can handle that.”
The accident meant Bowyer finished 28th in the final race rundown. while the loss of positions meant a big loss of points. However, Bowyer said it didn’t cost him a shot to beat Brad Keselowski for the Sprint Cup Series championship, a title he lost by 29 points.
“Talladega is the one race I wish I had back,” he said. “Two laps to go, I was leading the thing. I made a couple of bad moves and it got me in a bad spot, and I got wrecked. Brad got through it and Jimmie kind of got through it. When you’re that close and the teams are that close week-in and week-out, that big mishap and you’re done. You’re not going to catch up 20-some points to them in four or five races. You’re just not.”
The runner-up finish in the point standings was a career-best for the 33-year-old Bowyer, and for the Michael Waltrip Racing organization as well. Although the driver of the No. 15 Toyota wasn’t listed among the championship favorites at the beginning of last season, he established himself as a contender by midseason. He doesn’t think, however, it should be described as overachieving.
“I don’t think we overachieved, because I think when you say overachieved it means you did more than you’re capable of,” he said. “I just think we were beyond expectations and what people expected of us. I’m very proud of what we accomplished last year.
I’ve looked forward to this year and what we have in front of us and the opportunities ahead with this new car and continue to build on what we had last year. That’s more important to me right now, is making sure we get the year started off right.”
Bowyer believes momentum plays a big role in the sport as it does in any sport. He won the final race of the regular season at Richmond before the Chase began. It led to a year when he finished with three wins and 23 top-10 finishes in 36 races. He ended the season on a high note, a runner-up finish at Homestead.
“Certainly, momentum is alive in any sport and confidence is a big part of that as well,” he said. “Coming off the season we
had -- we have both of those on our side. We just have to keep them on our side. The only thing that builds those two things is success and you have to be able to find success early to get that momentum rolling.”
The Emporia, Kans. driver pointed to other keys to his success. After leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2011, he found Michael Waltrip Racing a team where other drivers were willing to work together. Besides Martin Truex Jr., the team also signed veteran Mark Martin, who has a reputation of being a mentor to younger drivers.
“It always has been a partnership since I walked in the door,” he said. “Truex and I battled it out in the Nationwide days and I had a lot of confidence in him as a driver. Then, Mark Martin they asked me about him being a teammate. I was like, ‘Get him hired now.’ It was just a breath of fresh air, another great asset.”
Bowyer, a former Nationwide Series champion, described it as a long ways to come for a dirt track racer from Kansas to finish second in the Sprint Cup standings. In his seven years on the Cup Series, he has racked up eight wins and made five Chase appearances.
While the dirt background helps with the fundamentals of driving like being able to control the car in a slide and being able to hang it out early in a run, it’s just part of what makes a great driver at the Cup level.
“It’s not so much you’re a better driver than the next guy,” he said. “I don’t think there’s much difference at this level, but I do think there are guys much better about relaying the information of what makes the car better than the next guy.”