These are testy times for Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer is without a ride for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and doesn’t know yet if he will be included in this season’s Chase, which begins next week at Chicagoland Speedway.
Bowyer will gain clarity on the Chase situation after Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Although he’s winless this season, he’s 16th on the 16-driver Chase grid. But that means if a driver outside the top 16 wins, Bowyer’s out. If there is a repeat winner, Bowyer would still have to finish at least 28th to assure himself a spot in the playoffs.
“Nobody ever likes looking over their shoulder,” said Bowyer, who is 29 points ahead of Aric Almirola and 10 points behind Paul Menard. “You want to worry about what’s ahead, and for me in this weekend, it’s attainable.”
Bowyer isn’t entering this crucial race with much momentum, not after finishing 17th at the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway last week.
“Last week we stubbed our toe,” said Bowyer. “We struck out … from the time we unloaded to the time we put it back in the box.”
But it has been a tumultuous month for Bowyer. His Michael Waltrip Racing team announced in August that it would close its doors after this season, making Bowyer a free agent.
“I’m telling you, two months ago I didn’t see this even being a shot,” Bowyer said of his chances at being in the Chase. “(The team) really dug deep and worked hard. We switched crew chiefs, we switched some key components of the organization around and, boom, it took off and we marched our way into Chase talk.”
Bowyer said he’s not spending much time worrying about for whom he will race next season.
“As soon as the news comes out that you’re not going to have a future at your present employment, obviously you’re nervous and worried about what that means,” said Bowyer.
“It’s humbling that people have reached out, but truth be told, man, look what we’re in the middle of. Timing is good that it’s ahead and not the end of the year that you’re finding this out, but nonetheless it’s pretty crunching times right here. I (have said) ‘Let’s just take a timeout right here and take care of business.’ ”
So until then, Bowyer is looking forward to making the Chase, then being a factor in the championship race after that.
“I’m very proud of having a shot at being a part of (the Chase) and looking forward to the races after that,” he said. “You don’t just want to back your way into the Chase and then not perform and be the first one out. I want to go some rounds and have fun in it and make some noise.”
▪ Eleven drivers are locked into the Chase: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin.
▪ Four drivers control their Chase destiny without a win: Jamie McMurray (starting the race), Ryan Newman (31st or better), Jeff Gordon (17th or better) and Paul Menard (ninth or better), no matter who wins.
▪ Three can clinch without a win, but need help in the form of poor finishes from winless drivers ahead of them in points and/or a repeat winner: Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.
▪ Twelveneed to win to clinch a Chase spot: Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, David Ragan, Sam Hornish Jr., Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier.
▪ Cole Whitt and David Gilliland need to win and receive help to get inside the top 30 and clinch a spot.