It's not supposed to be this easy. You don't take a team that's a punchline, slap a Chase-worthy driver in there and see immediate dividends. Yet that's exactly what happened with Michael Waltrip Racing and its star acquisition, Clint Bowyer.
Sure, Bowyer and Waltrip haven't had the best history, but they learned this year that winning is a powerful bandage, and hurt feelings have no place in victory lane. Combined with new crew chief Brian Pattie, Bowyer rolled off two wins this year, including a regular season-ender at Richmond just a few days ago. He spent the entire season in the top 10, never in any real danger of losing his Chase berth.
Bowyer never really comes up in championship conversation, mainly because he's always one of those guys who's not quite mounting up enough top 5 finishes to really scare the leaders. But he has a right-place, right-time knack, and if he's able to secure some early wins, you never know. You never know!
Best Chase track: Things start off well for Bowyer; his best track is Chicago, where he's got an average finish of 10.2 over six races. He'll need an early start to get ahead of the projected leaders; a victory in one of the first few races will keep him in the hunt far longer than his usual good-but-not-great runs of late. (Richmond excepted, of course.)
Worst Chase track: Charlotte, where he's achieved only a 17.5 average finish. That's not the kind of finish you want on your record in the Chase, since it necessitates two to three top 5 finishes to offset it. But hey, you know that going in, you can prepare.
JB's take: Not this year, but this is a case where just getting into the Chase is a huge achievement. Bowyer was brought to MWR as a Chase-worthy driver, and he delivered immediately. That's the kind of foundation that the team can build on in future seasons. At the moment, Bowyer doesn't have the squad to hang with the Johnsons and Hamlins of the world, but before long, he just might.