While Clint Bowyer is undoubtedly unhappy that he's now 10 points behind Mark Martin for the final Chase berth, it could have been a whole lot worse. Bowyer had a broken truck arm mount that relegated him to a 32nd-place finish, but Martin struggled all day and finished 19th.
There's no doubt that Bowyer has been running better than Martin during the summer, but Bowyer can't get away from trouble. He had the fastest car during the first Pocono race and hit the wall. He got spun on the backstretch of the final lap at Daytona. He was collateral damage in the Kurt Busch-Jimmie Johnson dust-up at the second Pocono race. Come to think of it, his year has been similar to Martin's 2009.
Martin, on the other hand, has been solidly unspectacular in 2010. Since the change to the spoiler, he and crew chief Alan Gustafson haven't had the speed that they had with the wing. Martin's been able to crank out consistent finishes, but he hasn't been in contention for wins. And you know what? That's pretty similar to Bowyer's 2009.
There are four races to go until the Chase field is set, and for all intents and purposes, the two are in a dead heat. Let's take a look at their past histories at the four tracks on the schedule and see if we can find an advantage, shall we?
Michigan: Martin won at Michigan in June of 2009, but since that was with the wing, his 16th-place finish this June may be more indicative. Bowyer was in a backup car for the first Michigan race and finished 22nd, the last car on the lead lap. Bowyer's teammate, Jeff Burton, finished eighth, while Kevin Harvick finished 19th. The other three Hendrick cars? They were fourth, sixth and seventh. Advantage: Martin.
Bristol: Bowyer's 2009 Chase chances died at Bristol, while Martin qualified first and finished second. Martin's only raced three times on Bristol's new configuration and was caught up in a crash earlier this season. Bowyer blew an engine in the spring at Bristol and has three top 10s on the new banking. Advantage: Draw.
Atlanta: Both drivers were involved in the late-race melee in the first Atlanta race, so that's a wash. Bowyer has four sixth-place finishes at Atlanta and while Martin has qualified in the top 10 in his three Atlanta races with Hendrick, he's only finished there once. Plus, RCR has been consistently faster than the cars from Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s shop. Advantage: Bowyer.
Richmond: It wouldn't be surprising at all to see both drivers within 20 points of each other heading into Richmond. Martin finished 25th there in the spring, but finished in the top five in the previous four Richmond races. Bowyer's been pretty good there as well, never finishing below 18th in any of his starts at the 0.75 mile trioval. And Bowyer will be always remembered (forgotten?) as the winner of the race where Kyle Busch and Earnhardt Jr. got together battling for the lead. Advantage: Draw.
Well, that was fruitful. Truthfully, this is about as evenly matched as it could get. Bowyer's been consistently faster than Martin, but again, he's had horrible luck. If his speed translated into consistent finishes, this wouldn't be a contest. However, it is, and because Bowyer and RCR have been so good, I'm taking Bowyer over Martin. Who do you you have? Let us know in the comments.