SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Clint Bowyer looks at the picture and sees the truth.
"I'm certainly not right behind Jimmie (Johnson), but I guess I'm the closest person to him," Bowyer said Friday prior to opening practice for this weekend's Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Bowyer is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings, but the gulf between his Michael Waltrip Racing team and that of the five-time series champion is 56 points. It's the largest gap of the season between the top two positions. So large, in fact, that Johnson could skip this weekend's stop at the legendary 2.5-mile speedway and still be leading the standings.
Johnson is one of two drivers with a series-best four victories this season. Bowyer is one of three in the top-10 yet to make the trip to victory lane.
How, then, is Bowyer leading the charge among those hoping to put a halt to the Hendrick Motorsports driver's charge toward a possible sixth title?
"We've done a great job at being consistent and that's what I like to focus on," Bowyer said.
Previous summer stretches haven't exactly been his strong suit, he said, but the effort he's seen from his No. 15 team gives him reason to feel good about his chances. A year ago, he was ninth in points heading into the Indy race; until this year, that was tops for a career that began in earnest back in 2006.
Second at Martinsville and Richmond earlier this year, Bowyer also posted top-five finishes at Bristol, Kansas, Sonoma, Kentucky and Daytona. Thus far, he's avoided most of the potholes that can send a team spiraling out of the top-10 in the standings.
"You can win the championship being consistently strong," he said. "We're second in points being consistently strong. I feel like, with an exception of one (race), we've covered our bases. We've done a good job of being there each and every week."
And, he said, the team "stubbed our toe in the last race at New Hampshire."
"Just went the wrong way" with adjustments, he said. "We were fast all weekend long."
Teammate Brian Vickers "kind of went another route and ended up winning the race. That happens in racing. It's a humbling sport."
Vickers and fellow teammate Martin Truex Jr. each have one win this year, but haven't displayed similar consistency. Truex Jr. is 11th in points while Vickers, sharing the No. 55 entry with team co-owner Michael Waltrip and veteran Mark Martin, isn't in the top 40.
"Does it bother me that my teammates won? Absolutely not," Bowyer said. "I was super happy and proud of both of them. Both of them were great stories for not only MWR and themselves, but the sport. I'm a fan of the sport, I love this sport and you have Truex, he was in my rookie class and seeing him get his win that everybody knew was a long time coming was special for everybody.
"Brian Vickers, the man about lost his life and battled back and got another opportunity and made the most of it and got back in Victory Lane.
"Just two great stories and happy to be a part of it and hopefully we will get another one sometime soon."
Bowyer, 14th in the opening practice session, said his team is "top-five week in and week out."
"And if you do that," he said, "I know you're going to get your wins. I'm really not concerned about that. Being consistent, staying in the hunt each and every weekend is what's going to give you a shot at a championship."
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