Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Clint Bowyer
2013 Finish: 7th
2013 Highlight: After finishing second in 2012, Bowyer was winless in 2013. So we're going to go with a stretch from Dover in June through Bristol at the end of August. In those 12 races, Bowyer had seven top 10 finishes and stayed in the top three in the points standings. But because he didn't have a win, once Richmond came and the points were reset, Bowyer started the Chase in 8th place.
2013 Lowlight: Oh Richmond... We don't need to rehash it here once again, do we? From a perception standpoint, it'll be fascinating to see how Bowyer is viewed by NASCAR nation. He's one of the funniest guys in the garage. Will that funny return? Will it win over fans who might have been furious after Richmond? Will any lingering stink about Richmond waft over Bowyer and emanate from management at Michael Waltrip Racing?
Why is Bowyer here? We've long felt that Bowyer is one of the most underrated drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, though after that second-place finish, we're not sure how applicable the label is any longer. If Bowyer doesn't get a win in the first 26 races, he's going to be consistent enough to make the Chase barring a crazy scenario that sees 16 or more drivers win a race.
How could Bowyer not be here? Consider our placement of Bowyer in the standings a hedge on MWR. With the team's downsizing after the loss of long-time sponsor NAPA, the performance of the team is one of the more intriguing storylines entering 2014. Will MWR be as good or better with fewer full-time cars? Will it be worse? If we're wondering about the latter question, that's how Bowyer won't be in the Chase.
It's also worth noting that it's a contract year for Bowyer. Assuming that it continues to be a fruitful partnership between he and MWR, keeping him is paramount to the organization's future success. Potentially losing both Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer in successive seasons is tough.
Best Winter Olympic Event: If the Winter Olympics were like the X Games, we'd love Bowyer in the snowmobile races. But they're not. So we'll take Bowyer in the skeleton. He seems crazy enough to do it.
Worst Winter Olympic Event: We're not sure Bowyer has the attention span for curling. Though he'd probably be a riot as he's screaming at the stones to "hurry hard."
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