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Cool, Calm Clint Collects Championship

by Cathy Elliott
Sunday, November 30, 2008

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Clint Bowyer
Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR
I wish I had a funny or dramatic story to tell you about Clint Bowyer, but I don't.

As far as I know, Bowyer's name isn't usually associated with words like "hijinks" or "shenanigans". I've never heard of Bowyer leaving a whoopee cushion in teammate Kevin Harvick's seat, or wrapping Carl Edwards' car in bathroom tissue, just for kicks.

In fact, now that I think about it, I find it generally odd that for someone who is really passionate about NASCAR, who reads and writes and thinks about it on a daily basis, Bowyer hasn't really shown up as a significant blip on my personal radar screen.

Shame, shame, shame on me, because in a quiet, almost methodical manner, this young driver has made his presence felt in the NASCAR world most convincingly, and quickly.

Bowyer's story is representative of many drivers currently competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series. At the age of 5, he began racing in motocross, racking up numerous championships and over 200 wins -- those are Richard Petty-like numbers. He moved up to street stocks in 1996, and won Modified series championships in 2000 and 2001.

In 2002, the lure of NASCAR brought Bowyer to NASCAR's Weekly Racing Series, and he won the series' Midwest championship in 2002, In 2003, he made his first starts in the ARCA Series, where he caught the attention of NASCAR championship team owner Richard Childress.

In 2004, Childress gave Bowyer the opportunity to run half of the NASCAR Nationwide Series races, sharing seat time with Harvick. The year 2005 was his first full-time season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He won two poles and two races, and finished second in the driver standings.

In 2006, Bowyer moved up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where he finished second to Denny Hamlin for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. He continued to race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, finishing third in points, and also won his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race that year.

Then came 2007. Bowyer won his first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole that year, at Darlington. That is a notable achievement for any driver, but Bowyer topped it -- he made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, seeming to come from out of nowhere. He hadn't won a race going into the Chase, although he did win the first of the 10 events that comprise the championship run. Although he was ninth in the driver standings at the end of the first 26 races, he was seeded 12th in the Chase, since race wins determine playoff seeding. His name seemed almost incongruous, mixed in among the likes of elite drivers and former champions such as Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart.

He made no waves during the Chase, and set off no fireworks, other than getting that all-important first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. But when the Chase was complete, he ranked third in driver standings. And those three former series champions whose names seemed to eclipse Bowyer's on the Chase contenders’ list, whose stars seemed to burn just a little bit brighter than his?

They all finished behind him.

The 2008 season has been another banner year for Bowyer. Once again, he proved his mettle by earning a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and going head to head with the best of the best, finishing fifth in the overall driver standings. 

Over in the ultra-competitive NASCAR Nationwide Series, he was dominant all year. And when the final checkered flag of the season flew at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he found himself not near the top of the list, but at the top of it, number one in the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings.

The ultimate goal of every young driver on every dirt and short track in America is to one day advance and have the opportunity to compete in the most elite levels of racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series. As time moves on, these would-be Jeff Gordons and Mark Martins will no doubt find another role model to emulate; they will want to be just like Clint Bowyer when they grow up.

Some of the labels that can be applied to Bowyer are based on the individual fan. One man's amazement is another man's apathy, after all. Some will call him unremarkable, while others will see him as unflappable.

But there is no disputing one title. It will not change or fade as the years pass, and it can never be taken away. Like the man himself, it is concise and not given to verbosity. Clint Bowyer: Champion.

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