After a weekend full of surprises — Mississippi State’s big win over Auburn, somebody managing not to lose the ND-UM game, and ‘Bama’s stirring comeback over Arkansas — it was nice to see the only contender who never won before take a trophy home in the first race of the Chase. Bowyer’s only 15 points behind the leaders (Johnson and Gordon, with Stewart in third at -10), and though it doesn’t seem possible that he could win it all, here’s hoping Mr. Excitement has another surprise or two hiding somewhere in the 07 Chevy.
Clint Bowyer finished the season-opening race at Daytona upside-down and on fire, and didn’t finish any higher than third for the rest of Nascar’s “regular season”. But Nascar’s points system has always been forgiving to a fella who just can’t win a race, and the driver of the 07 did well enough in all those races to put himself in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, something significantly more popular drivers such as Mark Martin (who was semi-retired and voluntarily sat out several races), Dale Earnhardt junior (who sat out several races involuntarily because the engines his evil stepmother Teresa gave him blew), and Kasey Kahne (whose cars for most of the season just plain blew) couldn’t manage. Of course, being the only driver in the 12-man Chase without a single win meant he went in dead last, and I’m sure there was a contingent of fans who hoped he would stay there as a stark argument that Nascar’s championship system is still fluky. Not me, though — from the moment I saw him step out of his flaming car and calmly stare at it, I figured he was a good man to root for. He rewarded that optimism at an opportune time.
Today’s win at New Hampshire was not only Clint Bowyer’s first win of this season, it was his first win on the Nascar Nextel Cup circuit period, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Beyond merely moving him up from 12th to 4th (a byproduct of the new Chase scoring formula which grants 10 points for every regular season win), it proved that he deserved to be in the Chase at all. That was especially needed coming off his disappointing performance at Richmond, where he challenged early only to spin out while trying to pass Carl Edwards for the lead. Though he managed to fight back to 12th in that race, and the quality of his run suggested his team was getting stronger, the spinout looked like a rookie mistake. A number of people were saying he didn’t belong in Nascar’s idiosyncratic little “playoff”, but a win answers a lot of ills.