NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer (15) after qualifying for the Coke Zero 400. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
SITTING SECOND in points just eight races away from when the field resets for the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is always a good place to be.
However, in the case of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota driver Clint Bowyer and his crew chief Brian Pattie, they would prefer to have some trips to Victory Lane thrown in for good measure . and perhaps a little peace of mind.
"Yes, second in points puts us in a position where we could take a shot and more importantly being 116 points in front of 11th place helps a lot," Pattie said. "We are not locked in. You look at what the No. 5 car (Kasey Kahne) did from Dover over a stretch of a couple weeks and he lost almost 70 points in about three weeks, so I definitely want to watch that something like that doesn't happen."
Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 (1 p.m. ET, TNT) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway could be just the remedy they need.
In September 2007, Bowyer claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at the 1.058-mile oval. Three years later, he won there again. In 14 starts, he has two victories, four top fives and six tops 10s. He has led more laps (475) at New Hampshire than at any other track on the schedule, which is the second-highest total among drivers trailing only Tony Stewart's 887.
Last season, Bowyer finished third and fourth in the two Loudon races driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. He had spent the previous six seasons driving for Richard Childress Racing.
He's also experienced success throughout the first half of the season, especially over the past month, where he has four consecutive top-10 finishes: seventh (Michigan), fifth (Sonoma), third (Kentucky) and fourth (Daytona). Bowyer hasn't finished outside the top 20 since Auto Club in March, a streak of 13 races.
"If we keep on the pace that we're on now and we can lock in around Bristol that would be super exciting for us - then we can go for some wins," said Pattie, who is in his second year of working with Bowyer. "I think it's all risk versus reward."
At the end of last season, Bowyer used a runner-up finish in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to surprise everybody and pass Jimmie Johnson for second place in the standings, 39 points behind NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
Bowyer's fourth-place finish in last Saturday's race at Daytona returned him to second in the standings for the first time since the end of 2012. In order to remain there and perhaps inch closer to points leader Johnson, Bowyer (-49 points) will need to continue his streak of strong performances. However, if he hopes to knock the leader from atop his lofty perch, he'll need to find some wins . soon.
By this time last season, Bowyer had already claimed one trophy for his mantel. But, it wasn't until the second half of the season before he came on strong. In year-to-date comparisons of his last two seasons, he is statistically performing better this year in many categories, with the exception of wins.
He is currently ranked higher (second vs. 10th), has more points (609 vs. 572), more top-five finishes (seven vs. three), more top-10 finishes (11 vs. nine) and more laps led (114 vs. 77).
FANTASY FOCUS: This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon is a solid choice for any fantasy team. Over the past 16 races, he has the second-highest driver rating (109.9) and leads all active drivers in average running position (7.2), quality passes (562), fastest laps (410) and laps in the top 15 (4,333). In addition, he has three wins, 16 top fives, 21 top 10s and four poles in 36 races. Tony Stewart is also worth consideration with three wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s and one pole in 28 races. Additionally, he has the best passing differential (212), most laps led (887) and highest driver rating (111.7) among all active drivers. Denny Hamlin will be racing for more than just a win, but a spot in the Chase, so don't count him out. He has the highest average finishing position (7.9) and is the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner at the track, where he's claimed two victories.