This is the seventh in a series of 2013 Sprint Cup Series driver recaps that will be featured on NASCAR.com
Six days. That's all it took for Clint Bowyer's 2013 season to go from promising to infamous, and literally spin out of control.
On one Sunday night at Atlanta, there was Bowyer poised to take the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings from Jimmie Johnson, until the engine in his No. 15 car let go. And on the following Saturday night at Richmond, there was Bowyer deluged in controversy after a suspicious spin of his vehicle helped ignite one of the largest controversies in recent NASCAR history.
In the end, it was the latter that was remembered more than the former. Bowyer spent the final weeks of the 2013 season keeping a low profile for his role in a race manipulation scandal that led NASCAR to levy against Michael Waltrip Racing perhaps its most severe fine, one which had the effect of knocking Bowyer's now former MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and later led the sponsor of the team's No. 56 car to pull out.
Bowyer wasn't alone -- MWR driver Brian Vickers and his spotter Ty Norris were also sanctioned by NASCAR for a suspicious late pit stop that also played a role in the drama. But in terms of the public outcry, the usually amicable and gregarious Bowyer bore the brunt of it, forcing one of the sport's most colorful characters to withdraw into a metaphorical shell until the worst of the storm passed.
"Anytime you have anything bad happen, I don't care (what), if your name is tied to anything bad, you're bummed out. Everybody who knows me knows that I love this sport, knows that I appreciate not only the sport, but everybody in it. I enjoy going to the race track, I enjoy believe it or not, talking to (the media). I don't know why in the hell that is. But I do. I have fun with all aspect of this sport," Bowyer said.
"I enjoy driver intros, that's our chance to kind of bag on each other a little bit and have some fun and then go out and try to kick each others' teeth in. But nonetheless, I enjoy this sport. I knew the magnitude of that situation, and respected my part in it, and you've got to pay your dues when you have something like that happen. It doesn't matter what it is. If you're tied to anything negative for yourself, your race team, or your sport, you've got to respect that situation and give it some time."
While the scandal continues to have long-lasting impacts -- MWR had to contract to a two-car operation after sponsor NAPA pulled out -- Bowyer can at least occasionally joke about it now, as he did in his Champion's Week speech in Las Vegas. His year was OK, he said, "until it took a spin for the worse. And let me tell you, it was really bad."
And it certainly eclipsed what the No. 15 team did on the track. Although Bowyer went winless this past season for the first time since 2009, he tied a career-high with 10 top-five finishes, and was consistent enough to linger second or third in the standings for 13 straight weeks. He was at his best on the eve of the Chase, and was in position to assume the lead when Johnson was involved in an accident at Atlanta.
It would have been short-lived -- the points were reset for the Chase the following week -- but Bowyer was disappointed nonetheless after his engine failed, denying him the chance to seize the top spot. Even so, it's events like that surge into Richmond that he holds on to, even when everyone else is focusing on what came after.
"Looking back, it's easy to look at one particular thing in a season. But for me, the season's long, man," he said. "We did a good job of managing the year, managing points and where we needed to be as far as that aspect goes. It's so important to hit that Chase at full stride, and unfortunately we didn't do that this year. But nonetheless, I still feel like I'm with a crew chief and with an organization and a manufacturer that's going to get that done."
Although Bowyer finished fifth at Homestead to claim seventh in the final point standings, the Chase for the No. 15 team was an almost impossible situation given the maelstrom surrounding them. Now the focus turns to next season, and toward that end it will be a different MWR team that rolls into Speedweeks -- one without NAPA or Truex, and Jeff Burton in a third car used primarily for research and development. The scandal may have defined his 2013 season, but Bowyer doesn't believe it will hamper his efforts to contend in 2014.
"I don't, because we didn't have to pull back on the tools it takes to build fast race cars -- the engineering and simulation and all the things we all know are the keys to success," he said. "We didn't lose those assets. We lost a lot of assets, there's no question. ? but I guess when it comes down to speed and being able to contend for wins and hopefully still contend for a championship, I still feel like we have those assets intact."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
SEASON IN REVIEW
- Dec. 11: Carl Edwards
- Dec. 12: Kasey Kahne
- Dec. 13: Ryan Newman
- Dec. 16: Kurt Busch
- Dec. 17: Greg Biffle
- Dec. 18: Joey Logano
- Dec. 19: Clint Bowyer
- Dec. 20: Jeff Gordon
- Dec. 23: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Dec. 26: Kyle Busch
- Dec. 27: Kevin Harvick
- Dec. 30: Matt Kenseth
- Jan. 2: Jimmie Johnson
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation