What a difference a week makes: Clint Bowyer goes from worst finish of season at Richmond to best at Talladega

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It’s been 51 races – Charlotte in October 2012 – since Clint Bowyer last went to victory lane in a Sprint Cup event.

While he didn’t win in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Bowyer took a step in the right direction, finishing third.

It was his best finish thus far in this season’s first 10 races and his first top-five showing since the 2013 season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway.

With the Sprint Cup Series heading to Bowyer’s home track of Kansas Speedway this Saturday night, a place he’s still looking for his first career win at, Sunday’s finish at ‘Dega was a step in the right direction towards breaking the longest winless streak of Bowyer’s career.

When asked if his showing was a combination of gratification for coming so close, yet also frustration for still not breaking through for a win, Bowyer admitted to mixed emotions.

“Any time you finish on the podium at Talladega you’re somewhat excited but any time you’re that close to the front and taking that checkered flag, it’s pretty easy to get greedy in this sport,” Bowyer said. “It’s kind of just a little bit of both.”

This is a crucial year for Bowyer, who leaves Talladega climbing from 20th to 18th in the standings. Not only is the winless streak ever-present in his mind, he’s also in the final year of his contract with Michael Waltrip Racing.

While it’s likely Bowyer will re-sign with MWR for another three years at some point, he also has to worry about making the Chase for the expanded and revamped Sprint Cup.

If he could put together a season like he did in his first season at MWR – 2012, when he won a single-season career high of three races and ultimately finished second in the overall standings to Brad Keselowski – it would certainly help Bowyer’s leverage when it comes to signing on the dotted line.

Bowyer and Greg Biffle were chasing eventual winner Denny Hamlin on the final lap at Talladega when a wreck occurred behind them. It left both Bowyer and Biffle befuddled of sorts: do they race hard to try and overtake Hamlin, or do they wait and anticipate a yellow caution, thus freezing them in their respective spots on the track?

It was the latter, as it turned out.

“Long day, long race, but it’s all about being there at the end,” Bowyer said. “The only way I know to guarantee myself and my team that I can at least give them a chance is to be patient and be boring, lead a boring race there for a while and then go for broke at the end.

“We did that, we got up in position and everything was going right, and it’s just like Greg said, you’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Still, a season-best third-place finish is significantly better than all of the other finishes Bowyer has had this season, especially his 43rd-place DNF at Richmond last week.

“Blew three tires and burnt the car to the ground – it was a pretty crummy weekend,” Bowyer said. “(I’m glad) to get things turned back around on a positive note.

“I just told Rob (Kauffman, MWR team co-owner), my boss, I turned to him and looked at all three of his cars (Bowyer in third, Brian Vickers in fourth and team co-owner Michael Waltrip in 25th) sitting out here and I said, ‘Did you really just finish Talladega with not a scratch on all three cars? That’s pretty lucky.”

Now if only that luck can continue Saturday in Kansas.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.