Clint Bowyer may walk the runway as a top-10 Chase finisher in Las Vegas after all next month. It would be a remarkable comeback for a guy who once tripped and fell far behind.
Bowyer got docked 150 points in the Chase after his car flunked inspection in the September race at Loudon, N.H., crushing any shot his team had at winning the Cup title.
But Bowyer has refused to pout. He has gotten up from the fall and has been resilient. His victory Sunday at Talladega, Ala., marked the second time he has won a Chase race. If not for the 150-shot-to-the-heart, he would be in fifth place right now, 217 points down.
"I knew I was going to have to go to Vegas, but they kick you out shortly after you get done with the media," Bowyer said after the race. "Maybe I can walk across the stage if I keep this up.
"A little dig," he said, looking at NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp.
Bowyer had earned the right to get in a few digs.
He has rallied after stumbling in the two races after Loudon, when everything was in disarray, emotionally and otherwise.
"I'm still frustrated," he said Sunday. "Took the wind out of my sails. The two races after that whole mess, it was a disaster. If we had that back, we were along our normal routine, I don't think we would have had those bad runs that we've had.
"So it has been very frustrating. Haven't had much to look forward to. Didn't have much to look forward to, other than the fact I knew my racecar was very, very fast going into this race. I knew there was a lot of preparation put in place. The engine boys were very happy. When those boys are excited about something, you better get excited as a driver because you have something that is probably going to be an advantage."
NASCAR is still set up for a fabulous race to the finish with Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick all within 38 points of each other with three races to go. It is the closest drivers have been bunched together since the inception of the Chase format in 2004.
The field would have been packed even tighter if RCR teammate Harvick had been able to edge out Bowyer when NASCAR froze the field following the last wreck of the day, on the final lap at Talladega.
It was uncertain who had won, even though Bowyer already was celebrating by doing burnouts before it became official.
A Harvick victory would have put him 15 points closer to Johnson.
"Although we're racing for a championship … if you have a chance to win a Cup race, you have to go after it," owner Richard Childress said.
"I just told them, 'If it comes down to a win, you guys gotta to do what you gotta do.'"
It should be a fantastic finish.
Too bad Bowyer won't have a shot at making a run with the rest of them.