Sitting second in points just eight races away from when the field resets for the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is always a good place to be.
However, in the case of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota driver Clint Bowyer and his crew chief Brian Pattie, they would prefer to have some trips to Victory Lane thrown in for good measure…and perhaps a little peace of mind.
"Yes, second in points puts us in a position where we could take a shot and more importantly being 116 points in front of 11th place helps a lot," Pattie said. "We are not locked in. You look at what the No. 5 car (Kasey Kahne) did from Dover over a stretch of a couple weeks and he lost almost 70 points in about three weeks, so I definitely want to watch that something like that doesn't happen."
Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 (1 p.m. ET, TNT) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway could be just the remedy they need.
Last season, Bowyer finished third and fourth in the two Loudon races driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. He had spent the previous six seasons driving for Richard Childress Racing.
He's also experienced success throughout the first half of the season, especially over the past month, where he has four consecutive top-10 finishes: seventh (Michigan), fifth (Sonoma), third (Kentucky) and fourth (Daytona). Bowyer hasn't finished outside the top 20 since Auto Club in March, a streak of 13 races.
"If we keep on the pace that we're on now and we can lock in around Bristol that would be super exciting for us – then we can go for some wins," said Pattie, who is in his second year of working with Bowyer. "I think it's all risk versus reward."
At the end of last season, Bowyer used a runner-up finish in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to surprise everybody and pass Jimmie Johnson for second place in the standings, 39 points behind NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
Bowyer's fourth-place finish in last Saturday's race at Daytona returned him to second in the standings for the first time since the end of 2012. In order to remain there and perhaps inch closer to points leader Johnson, Bowyer (-49 points) will need to continue his streak of strong performances. However, if he hopes to knock the leader from atop his lofty perch, he'll need to find some wins… soon.
By this time last season, Bowyer had already claimed one trophy for his mantel. But, it wasn't until the second half of the season before he came on strong. In year-to-date comparisons of his last two seasons, he is statistically performing better this year in many categories, with the exception of wins.
He is currently ranked higher (second vs. 10th), has more points (609 vs. 572), more top-five finishes (seven vs. three), more top-10 finishes (11 vs. nine) and more laps led (114 vs. 77).
FANTASY FOCUS: This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon is a solid choice for any fantasy team. Over the past 16 races, he has the second-highest driver rating (109.9) and leads all active drivers in average running position (7.2), quality passes (562), fastest laps (410) and laps in the top 15 (4,333). In addition, he has three wins, 16 top fives, 21 top 10s and four poles in 36 races. Tony Stewart is also worth consideration with three wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s and one pole in 28 races. Additionally, he has the best passing differential (212), most laps led (887) and highest driver rating (111.7) among all active drivers. Denny Hamlin will be racing for more than just a win, but a spot in the Chase, so don't count him out. He has the highest average finishing position (7.9) and is the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner at the track, where he's claimed two victories.
Sadler's keeping track
Don't for a second assume that Elliott Sadler isn't aware of the running positions of the three drivers he's competing against for the Dash 4 Cash program's weekly bonuses.
Such was the case during the first leg of Nationwide's four-race Dash 4 Cash program that awards the highest-finishing driver among four eligible drivers $100,000. Look for more of the same to happen this Saturday during the CNBC Prime the Profit 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"Heck yeah, we know where each other's at," said Sadler, who finished third at Daytona on Friday night to win the first Dash 4 Cash. "[Austin Dillon and I] were laughing that we always know where the other guy is and the last restart I knew Austin was on second and we were fifth, and I was trying to figure out should we get in the top lane should Kyle Busch drop down and get in the bottom lane."
Sadler, Dillon, Kyle Larson and Brian Vickers all qualified to compete for the first $100,000 bonus after being the four highest-finishing points-eligible drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway the previous week.
By winning the first leg, Sadler automatically qualifies for the second leg at New Hampshire, where he has a best finish of fourth in nine series starts. Dillon and Larson also qualified for the second leg by finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, at Daytona.
Vickers finished 13th, but will be replaced by Sam Hornish Jr. in the Dash 4 Cash race at New Hampshire.
If Sadler wins the Dash 4 Cash race this weekend and repeats the feat next weekend at Chicagoland, he would be eligible for an additional $600,000 if he were to win the Indianapolis race outright.
Among the four participants eligible for this weekend's Dash 4 Cash, Sadler has more NASCAR Nationwide Series experience at the 1.058-mile track than his competitors. In only two starts at the track, Dillon has finishes of third and 25th. Hornish has only made one start in the series at New Hampshire, but finished a solid fourth in the race last year. This will be Larson's inaugural trip to the track.
The amount of excitement the Dash 4 Cash program brings to the series during these hot summer months is not lost on Sadler.
"What Nationwide Insurance does for our series, you know, this Dash 4 Cash stuff, man this is a great program and I'm not just talking about the extra money they're putting on the table," said Sadler from the Daytona media center after the race. "This brings a lot of exposure to our race team, brings a lot of exposure to our sponsors. I mean, this is a big, big program for our series. And for those guys to do it four weeks in a row and bring that much attention to our racing means a lot to me, means a lot to our owners, well it means a ton to our sponsors."
As for during Saturday's race, it's safe to assume Sadler will once again be keeping tabs on where his fellow Dash 4 Cash competitors are running.
Blaney excited about return to Iowa
Last September, Ryan Blaney penned his name in the history books in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
In only his third start in the series, the then 18-year-old driver from High Point, N.C., captured the checkered flag at Iowa Speedway.
This Friday, he returns to the 0.875-mile track to defend his victory in the American Ethanol 200 Presented by Enogen. To say Blaney, who is the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Dave Blaney, isn't excited upon the series' return to the Hawkeye state would be a huge understatement.
"This date couldn't have come sooner. I've been waiting to get back to Iowa in the Truck Series ever since I left there last September victorious," said Blaney. "Our team has really buckled down over the past month and my confidence is at an all-time high."
Going into the ninth race of the season, Blaney is tied with Johnny Sauter for fifth in the standings, 47 points behind leader Matt Crafton.
In the last three races, Blaney has finishes of third, eighth and fifth. In fact, out of the eight races the trucks have run this year, he's finished outside the top 10 only twice (16th at Martinsville and 25th at Charlotte).
In last year's victory, he started on the outside of the front row, next to polesitter Parker Kligerman. It wasn't until lap 151, however, that Blaney took his first lead of the race after passing Sauter. Blaney remained in the lead for the final 50 laps to become the youngest race winner in series history at 18 years, five months and 15 day old.
Blaney drove the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing RAM last season and gave the team its first win. If he wins again Friday night, he would give BKR its second win and Ford its first win at Iowa Speedway.
NASCAR Wire Service