2012 season in the rear view: Clint Bowyer

Vitals: 2nd in the points standings. 3 wins, 10 top 5s, 13 top 10s. 4 DNFs.

Moment to remember: Clint Bowyer's first season at Michael Waltrip Racing netted him his first road course victory and (surprisingly) his first victory at a 1.5 mile track in the Sprint Cup Series.

In June at Sonoma, Bowyer started sixth and was damn good, leading 71 of the race's 110 laps. He had Kurt Busch alongside him and Tony Stewart behind him when a caution to bring out a green, white, checkered restart flew, but easily pulled away from Stewart and Busch over the final two laps for the win.

In the fall race at Charlotte, Bowyer took the lead on lap 310 from Greg Biffle and made it to the end on fuel for the win. The victory moved Bowyer to within 28 points of leader Brad Keselowski with five races to go.

Moment to forget: This is only here because of the impact it had on Bowyer's Chase chances, because this sure as hell isn't a forgettable moment.

After Bowyer and Jeff Gordon made contact racing for position, Gordon took matters into his own hands (car? fender?) and took out Bowyer. And then that led to one of the greatest garage sprints in NASCAR history.

Bowyer left Phoenix 52 points behind Brad Keselowski, mathematically out of championship contention.

The impact of Gordon's retaliation to Bowyer's championship hopes was an afterthought to the chaos that had occurred. But when Jimmie Johnson had his issue at Homestead, that allowed Bowyer to slip into second place behind Keselowski.

Bowyer was running in the top 10 at the time of his contact with Gordon, and by virtue of his 28th place finish, likely lost about 20 points. His chances going into Homestead would have been slim, and he wouldn't have caught Keselowski regardless, but Bowyer would have been at the championship press conference and in the discussion. Instead, while he was storyline 1A at Homestead thanks to the conflict, his championship hopes were an afterthought.

The wrap: Speaking of afterthoughts, when we look back on the 2012 season in five or 10 years, will people instinctively think that Johnson finished second to Keselowski? That's not discounting anything that Bowyer did -- what he accomplished with a new team and the improvement that Michael Waltrip Racing made is one of the best stories of the year.

It's just that the championship battle moments, the duel at Texas, the comeback at Kansas, the turning point at Phoenix, all involved Keselowski and Johnson. Yeah, even the most casual fans of NASCAR will remember Bowyer for what happened at Phoenix, but hopefully they'll remember that he finished second too.

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