NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 19 Clint Bowyer

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Clint Bowyer

Season finish: 19th

2014 Season Stats: 0 wins, 5 top-5, 15 top-10, 0 Poles.

What went right: Very little went right for Bowyer this year. His best performances were a pair of third-place finishes, both at Talladega, as well as a third-place showing in the final race before the Chase at Richmond. Unfortunately, even with the strong finish at Richmond, Bowyer fell just short of making the Chase (due primarily to the 38th-place finish he had the week before at Atlanta). Off the track, one thing that went very right: Bowyer became a father for the first time.

What went wrong: What didn’t go wrong for Bowyer? He endured the worst season of his nine-year Cup career. He just never seemed able to get on track, nor was he able to maintain any kind of consistency from race-to-race. And let’s not forget he came into 2014 after the scandal by Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate Martin Truex Jr.’s finish to make the Chase at the late summer race at Richmond in 2013. Bowyer now hasn’t won a race since 2012, when he won a career-high three races. His average start was 15.8 and average finish was 17.1.

2015 Prospectus: With the way 2014 played out, things likely can’t get much worse and can only go up for Bowyer in 2015. However, overall team continuity could be affected early in the season with teammate Brian Vickers being sidelined for the early part of the season due to medical issues. Bowyer will have to get used to a different teammate for an unknown number of races. Still, Bowyer is a resilient type. After two winless seasons plus his worst-ever Cup finish, he’s a candidate to potentially be comeback driver of the year in 2015 – but only if things go right.

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Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.