Daytona 500 - Practice

For Clint Bowyer, more winning and less drama the goal for 2014

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Some of Clint Bowyer’s month of February has involved hunting and dirt tracks, two parts of his life that are part of his roots, his core being.

The other focus of the month, obviously, is on beginning his third season with Michael Waltrip Racing and bouncing back in 2014 after a challenging 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Balancing that mix of “happy-go-lucky” and an ability to relate to the common fan, along with his driving prowess and focus on Sundays, will be key to seeing him return to the heights he achieved in his first year at MWR. That year, he finished second in points to Brad Keselowski in 2012.

Far too often in 2013, Bowyer and MWR came up on the unhappy side of the headlines. The Richmond saga stands out, but to Bowyer, the lack of wins on the whole was a more dispiriting part of the year.

“Richmond was tough, but the most frustrating thing for me was not winning a race, period,” Bowyer told MotorSportsTalk Wednesday.

“We couldn’t get the job done. Atlanta, we were so fast [he led 48 laps –Ed.]. It was the fastest car I’ve ever had. We set sail and were gone, and went so fast that the motor couldn’t keep up.”

He finished seventh in points, with 10 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. But he has the potential to improve on that in 2014 because unlike a number of high-profile drivers (Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and former MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr., among others) who are all switching teams and will need time to develop chemistry, Bowyer’s entrenched in a familiar environment.

For Bowyer, the foundation is there for his group at MWR in the No. 15 5-Hour Energy/PEAK Antifreeze Toyota team, led by crew chief Brian Pattie.

“Trust me, we’ve hunkered down and been hard at work,” he said. “We’ve gone to Nashville five or six times; done short-track running at New Smyrna. A lot of testing.

“Being together this long is key, because we haven’t really lost any assets on (the 15 team). We don’t have to start getting used to each other like guys that have shifted around. We know what to expect.”

Gaining Jeff Burton in the team’s third car for selected races, along with new full-time teammate Brian Vickers, Bowyer said will also make up for the team’s losses over the winter.

“We didn’t lose anyone on the 15, but no question we have lost some assets elsewhere,” Bowyer admitted. “(Crew chief Rodney) Childers was a big thing. The Martins (Mark Martin, Truex), losing them, you lose that database and great contribution they bring.

“But Burton I’ve worked with before. We speak the same language, same characteristics. He was a guy I leaned on early on in my career, and will do so again in the races he’s here.”

Bowyer and Burton were teammates at Richard Childress Racing from 2006 through 2011.

As for Daytona, the Toyotas have yet to show the pace of, ironically, the Childress-built Chevrolets thus far. Bowyer was the second fastest Toyota in qualifying … but only 20th overall, with Matt Kenseth best of the bunch in 17th.

Bowyer will start 10th for Budweiser Duel 2 on Thursday night. Despite the single-lap gap, Bowyer isn’t concerned the TRD brigade will be up against it for the rest of Speedweeks.

“I’ve learned not to put too much stock into what happens on qualifying day,” he said.

Where Bowyer was able to put some stock – and insight – was last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited. As he didn’t score a pole position in 2013, he wasn’t able to race in the event. He observed the race and engaged with fans from FOX Sports’ “Hollywood Hotel” in the infield.

“It started out single file and in the booth I wanted to be like, ‘C’mon guys,’” Bowyer said. “To be honest, they were knocking the rust off, and it was the first time on track racing in three months. Then they went all out, and it turned into a wild shootout.”

Additionally, one other area where Bowyer is offering his time and insight is in a role as a judge and coach of the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, which launched on Feb. 18th.

The PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge is a nationwide search to find an amateur racer who has what it takes to be a professional driver. More information is available at; 2013’s winner was Patrick Staropoli, a 24-year-old Floridian who Bowyer said “Made the most of his opportunity” in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts.

But overall, Bowyer’s got his observations and insights largely out of the way. Now it’s time to see how he does on track the rest of this week in Daytona, and for the rest of 2014 as he seeks a bounce back season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish

It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.

Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.

As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.

His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.

The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.