The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in Delaware this weekend, as Dover International Speedway hosts the FedEx 400 on Sunday (1 PM ET, Fox). As the drivers jostle for position in the standings, one that often gets overlooked is the man who’s quietly nestled in fourth place, and that’s Clint Bowyer.
“He just slips under the radar,” said TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR junkie, my brother Bill, when I noted the relative obscurity that Bowyer plies his craft in. Even Bill, as opinionated as they come, had no strong feelings for Bowyer, positive or negative. The 34-year-old just quietly piles up points while other drivers pile up headlines.
Bowyer became a full-time driver in 2006 and has been a model of consistency. He’s never finished lower than 17th overall, has broke the Top 10 four times, and three of those occasions have been Top 5 finishes. That includes last year, when he ended up second. Even in his best year, Bowyer went unnoticed, because the last two drivers with a real chance at the championship were Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, and Bowyer’s nipping of JJ for the two-spot was…you guessed it, under the radar.
Now Bowyer is fourth overall, but there is a downside to his consistent, no-headlines approach. He doesn’t have a win yet this season, something that will place him at a disadvantage when placement time comes for the postseason in September. Six other contenders have at least one win, so if the postseason began today, Bowyer would really be seventh, rather than fourth, and he’d have to likely win at least two of the 10 playoff races to win the championship.
Having just turned 34 on Thursday, Bowyer is no spring chicken, but nor should we assume his time is running out. “He still has at least seven or eight more good years, maybe more,” Bill said, regarding the shelf life of NASCAR drivers. Mark Martin drove full-time into his mid-40s, and was a contender right to the end. There’s no reason to think Bowyer’s window is closing.
But in either case, there’s only item left on Bowyer’s resume and that’s to win the Sprint Cup championship. That will require some outright wins during the summer months to get him in position. He’s a 12-1 bet to do it on Sunday. A win would put him in the unusual position of being in the headlines, but I can’t imagine there would be too many complaints.
TEARING UP THE TRACK AT DOVER
The “Monster Mile” as Dover International Speedway is called has the distinguishing characteristic of a concrete surface. According to Bill, this means the tires have a stronger grip, which in turn means the tires wear down faster. And when the tires start to tear up, that increases the likelihood of a crash if the race is not managed properly.
Kyle Busch is one of two drivers who have managed this track well in recent years, winning in 2008 and 2010. Although with Busch’s current luck, any track that has a higher likelihood of crashes is one he may want to avoid, because a slew of bad breaks have marked his driving in recent weeks. He’s slipped out of the Top 10, into 11th place overall, which puts him among the status of the wild-card contenders, who would make the postseason, but get inferior placement.
“Crashes and motors blowing up tend to do that,” Bill said regarding Busch’s recent fall in the standings. Bill noted that Brad Keselowski is also struggling with some bad luck, and last year’s champ is only three points ahead of Busch for 10th and the final automatic playoff berth. Furthermore, Keselowski has yet to win a race, so if he ends up outside the Top 10, his wild-card status is much less secure than Busch’s.
The other driver who’s managed Dover well is Jimmie Johnson. He swept both races here in 2009, won along with Busch in 2010 and won one of the two races held here last year. Johnson comes in as a 4-1 favorite, while Busch is at 5-1. Normally 6-1 is the default price given to the favorite, so clearly the oddsmakers and/or the betting public are paying close attention to the recent history at Dover.