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Clint Bowyer avoiding 'runner-up jinx' heading into Cup race at Richmond

Clint BowyerCarl EdwardsMichael Waltrip RacingKyle BuschDenny HamlinJeff GordonDale Earnhardt, Jr.

It's hard to deny that a dropoff usually comes with finishing second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

The past five drivers to finish in the runner-up spot have fallen significantly the next season, with the past two, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, taking serious nose-dives after losing close title chases.

Clint Bowyer, the 2012 runner-up, says that's for the other guy. Heading into the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, he's ninth in the standings, solidly positioned to make a run at the Chase.

All things considered, Bowyer feels comparatively good about his form in the No. 15 Toyota he drives for Michael Waltrip Racing. Besides, neither he, nor almost anyone else, figured he would surge to second last season, so there's no need to feel bummed out like Hamlin or Edwards, who squandered late leads in the Chase.

"I think we've picked up where we left off last year," Bowyer said. "Everybody talks about that second-place jinx, but the reason I didn't think (it would be a problem) is, look at Carl Edwards in particular.

"He lost (to Tony Stewart in 2011) by a point. Just the devastation in that can carry not just to the driver, but everybody across the board on a race team.

"We were a first-year team, won three races and finished second in the championship. There's absolutely nothing to hang your head down.

"We were all super-pumped up and (could not) wait to get started in 2013. For us it was business as usual."

And business is booming for Bowyer on the short tracks, like the 3/4-of-a-mile one at RIR. He was second at Martinsville, fifth at Bristol and sixth at Phoenix, with the fifth at intermediate track Kansas on Sunday his other top 10 in eight races this season.

Better yet, he's on his way to Richmond, one of his best tracks. He averages a top 10 at RIR, where he has nabbed two victories, although his checkered flags were overshadowed by other events.

He won in May 2008 when Kyle Busch wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. late in what was an apparent duel for the win. Bowyer finished first at RIR in September, but Jeff Gordon stole the headlines by edging Busch out for the 12th and final spot in the Chase.

Still, you get the feeling Bowyer would rather race at RIR than almost any other track.

"Richmond is one of the coolest tracks on the circuit and it always has been in my mind," Bowyer said. "It's a perfect blend of speed, as a fan you get that sensation of speed, but it's also short-track racing at its best: rooting guys, beating and banging and really putting on a good show.

"I wish there were five more (Richmonds) across the country. Selfishly that's because I run good there and I'm relatively good on the short tracks."

Why? Because he grew up racing on them.

"You've got to hit your marks, you've got to be precise and you've got to get your car handling," he said. "At the end of the day it's no different than the bigger race tracks.

"Seems like I'm as good or better at getting my car to handle than my opposition at the short tracks."

He gives credit to that to team at MWR. Bowyer left Richard Childress at the end of 2011 and moved to MWR, joining teammate Martin Truex Jr. in 2012 as the first drivers from that team to qualify for a Chase.

Bowyer sounds like anything but a guy who expects the runner-up jinx to snare him this season.

"I've got an awesome group on the 5-hour Energy Toyota," he said. "Everybody from the crew chief (Brian Pattie) to the engineers to the over-the-wall crew has really turned the corner and gotten a lot better this year.

"Everybody at (Michael Waltrip Racing) and (Toyota Racing Development) is a really good package and a great program I'm part of, and I think the results are kind of speaking for themselves.

"That's the thing that's changed for me. I went from one of the boys to one of the elite because of making the change to MWR and the Toyota camp."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Clint BowyerCarl EdwardsMichael Waltrip RacingKyle BuschDenny HamlinJeff GordonDale Earnhardt, Jr.
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