Bowyer, MWR still pressing on despite distractions

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Clint Bowyer hasn’t factored into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup this year, which to most fans is probably justice, given the way the regular season ended with Bowyer’s caution-causing spin at Richmond creating a firestorm of controversy in the sport.

Still, despite everything that happened that night and the proverbial “ripple effect” it’s had on the Michael Waltrip Racing organization, Bowyer says the team has developed a good game plan to weather the storm.

“I don’t know if everyone’s at a good place, but I guess the biggest thing is we have a good game plan,” Bowyer said Monday in a media teleconference. “You’ve got to be able to come up with a goal, set goals, come up with a plan of where do we go from here? Certainly, man, it’s been a day-by-day thing.  No more than I felt like we were turning the corner of trying to get past what happened in Richmond, and Brian (Vickers) out of the blue comes up with his illness.  It was like ‘Oh, my God, not again.’ When does it stop?

“But, nonetheless, very proud, to be honest with you, of where we’re at considering all the circumstances,” he added. “I mean, we’re sixth in points. With all the distractions, all of the melees that have been going on with our organization, it just seems like it would have been very easy to get your eye off the ball and lose focus and not even completely be a factor at all.”

Here’s the recap of what has happened: Bowyer’s spin led to all three MWR cars getting docked 50 driver and owner points, which kicked Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase, which eventually led to NAPA leaving Truex’s team, and eventually led to the team downsizing to two full-time cars for 2014 with some staff reductions.

“We’ve sure learned a lot this year, but I think all of those mistakes and occurrences will only make you stronger in the future,” Bowyer admitted. “I mean, the setback of losing Martin Truex, he’s not only a good teammate, he’s a good friend. I’ve known him for a long time and we’ve battled back and forth in the Nationwide days. Not having him around me is tough.”

Bowyer attempted to put a positive spin on the team going to two cars.

“We’ve got a great game plan of scaling back to two cars and focusing on that,” he said. “I mean, make no mistake, the team that won the championship last year only had two cars so this can be done. Two-car organizations can work. I’m glad that they made the decision before we really tried to make three cars work and didn’t have the means to do it. Definitely make sure that you are hitting on all these cylinders with what you have and making the most of what you have. I think that’s what we’re moving towards and our game plan.”

Bowyer has one more year remaining on his contract, and also one year left with 5-Hour Energy, which has announced it will stay another year.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “