Bowyer on Talladega: A dangerous wild card race for the Chase

CLINT BOWYER, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing

Are you happy to be back in Talladega? "Yeah, it's neat to be able to come back here with new colors supporting a great cause with the Avon Foundation and also our new product with 5-hour -- the pink lemonade bottle -- so couldn't ask for a better time to do both of those things. Just proud of my race team -- we're still in the hunt. This is a big weekend I think for our sport, for our Chase and everybody involved in it. This can be a game changer. This is one of the tracks that can separate somebody and possibly win you a championship. It seems like each and every week these first few, it's just been a point or two here, a point or two there. This is one that can swing 20, 30 points and take you out of the running or push you into it. Everybody is anticipating those last few laps here. I love racing here. It's so much fun. That's such a thrill to be able to go around there and know that the storm is brewing and all hell is fixing to break loose and you're fixing to be a part of it. It's a pretty neat situation to be in."

Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

How can Talladega impact the championship picture? "I think this track is the reason why everybody in the Chase is still in it. All it takes is -- this is the only track that all of us can get wiped out or maybe all of us but one or two. Maybe the 12th guy can be the only one that doesn't get taken out and, if he does, he comes out of here with a whole new outlook 10 or 15 points out of the lead and all the sudden it has changed the look of things. Breath of air for the rest of the races. This is a dangerous wild card race for the Chase and you've just got to go out there and be as careful as you can and also be aggressive as you can and try to get yourself in the situation to win this thing."

Is your strategy to run ahead of the pack? "It is. It just depends on where you qualify. If you're up front starting the race, you want to stay up front and stay up there. If not, you don't want to be wiped out of this thing before halfway or even three quarters of the way through. You've got to be able to get yourself to the end of the thing, then get yourself in position. It doesn't matter if you lead all the laps and run up front all day long, if you're not there when that checkered flag falls nobody knows who led the most laps in most of these races anyways. Nobody even cares. They all care about who won and, more importantly, where this Chase bunch finished, because that's what it's all about right now. So, that being said, it is fun to be able to be in my situation. I've got to make up some ground and this is the one track where I can make up a lot of ground on those guys. You've got to use it as an opportunity."

Were you surprised by how Brad Keselowski won the spring race at Talladega? "It just depends. It was -- yes, if you could possibly get broke loose and then it's like (Jeff) Burton and I -- we got out there last time we won here. I think it was this race last year Burton and I got going on the restart and if he could have shook loose from me, he would have drove off from me and they wouldn't have caught us anyway. There was a lot of situations right there in the spring race that I don't know necessarily was planned or whatever. You can take credit for whatever you want to, but at the end of the day a lot of things just have to happen in your favor to get a good run here. That's how it is. You've got to be able to be smart enough to get yourself in the right situation that you want to be in, but then you've got to have enough luck to see that all play through that way you can be in that situation."

Do you consider waiting in the back of the field? "You've just got to do whatever you've got to do survive this thing, especially being in a situation we're all in in this Chase. It's so important this one race and getting to the end of this thing and getting yourself a solid finish. Like I said, this one race could be the championship decider. I know that's hard to say with all the races that are after this that follow this, but at the end of the day all those races you're just not separated by much anymore. It seems like the top-12 Chase drivers are in the top-12 each and every week and doesn't shake things up much. This place can -- there's guys that have 25th -- you look over at the end of the thing and they're trying to pass you for the win. You just don't see that at the other race tracks after this. This is the one on everybody's radar. Everybody knows that. That's why everybody is here."

How does the position of the finish line impact races at Talladega? "Well, it definitely does. Just because of that, there's been a lot of different winners that if it was at the middle of the tri-oval would have been in a whole different story. However, you've got to have that in the back of your mind when you're coming off of (turn) four and you're thinking about where you're going to make your move and why and what's fixing to happen. You've got to remember that the start finish line is on down three quarters of the way down the straightaway, because it will bite you. It almost bit me a year ago."

How special is this season for Michael Waltrip Racing and yourself? "It would be an awesome story if nonetheless -- changing everything up, moving over to another family, another manufacturer, a new sponsor, everything that we've created this year that is new for us. It would be unbelievable to think about being champions together our first year together. I'm very proud of the job that Brian Pattie (crew chief) has done creating a great environment around me -- assembled a great team. Certainly is a lot of fun week in and week out. We've been having fun and that's what we're going to have this weekend. You've just got to go into this thing -- there's guys that are looking over their shoulders and are really freaking out about this and, at the end of the day , you're either going to go out there and get through this thing and have a chance at winning or you're going to wreck. It's going to be one or the other."

What are your thoughts on an elimination system in the Chase? "I don't necessarily -- in my opinion, I'm a race fan. I can see the promoter's side of it. I would want to see all 12 guys having a shot at it going into Homestead (Miami Speedway). That's what makes sports appealing that makes fans come to it, so I don't want to see -- in our sport it would be different than a football game or a baseball game or stick and ball sports where there's just two teams. If you had just two cars out there at Homestead racing for a championship, you wouldn't have much of a race. I think as close as the competition is, I still think there's five or six, seven cars capable of getting themselves back in this thing with a wild race here at Talladega like what we've seen before."

How does your approach change going into this weekend? "You have so much more control there (New Hampshire Motor Speedway). Don't get me wrong, you have control here. You can put yourself in bad situations and you can cause the wreck. That's one thing you don't want to do is be the one that causes the wreck. You have so much more room here than you do at Daytona to move around and be more aggressive. The grip level seems to be higher and you have more confidence in your moves and the things that you do out there on the race track. In doing so we tend to, in my opinion, get ourselves in trouble more here than we do at Daytona. I think it's good. This is a good thing for our sport, it's a good thing for our Chase and this is a good thing to have in this Chase race. A lot of guys -- a lot of drivers and teams hate this part of it, but at the end of the day as a fan this is what we all want to see. We want to see it shake things up and hopefully it does, but not too much."

Was it a positive for your team to win here last year after not making the Chase? "For us, especially for us in our situation, we were parting ways at the end of the year and there really wasn't a whole lot to look forward to. We ended up winning that race and it really just was pretty satisfying, and it felt good to be able to win one last time with those guys -- and, by the way , win their last race that they've had. It was neat to be able to do that and go on."

Is it to your benefit to come to Talladega with a relaxed attitude? "I hope so. At the end of the day, I just have that mindset of it's either going to work or it's not. The neat thing about this -- I'm telling you when I first came here in those old cars, they've done such a good job with the safety aspect side of this. You can't lose sight of the fact that it is dangerous to go out there and crash and do those things, but they've done such a great job of creating a safe racing environment for us that it's really kind of changed your thought process. When we crash, we don't think about getting hurt anymore and you used to get hurt a lot when you wreck. Now, what we worry about is our points situation and hurting that, not necessarily your body. It just kind of changed a little bit. Also, we've had the confidence of winning the last two races here. That's got to be worth something to yourself and to your self-esteem and things like that. You just go in here and race with confidence and put the cards on the table and see what happens."

Do you think Brad Keselowski did something special to pull away for the win in the spring or was it luck? "I don't know. Like I said, he (Brad Keselowski) -- there's a lot of things drivers can get out and take credit for, a lot of different things. At the end of the day, the only thing that they can take credit for is they went out and beat all of us. I've been here, I wouldn't exactly say I'm the smartest human being in the world and I've won this thing a few times myself. Let me tell you, a lot of luck goes into it and you've got to be able to strategize and get yourself into the right situation that you think you want to be in. But, you've got to have the luck to make it happen."

Why do drivers race in the middle of the pack if the front or the back is preferred? "Unfortunately, you just find yourself right there, and I ask the same question. That's absolutely where I don't want to be. If I'm in the middle of this thing before halfway I'm going to the back. I'll pull over on the apron and go to the back or do something. Here's what leads to all of the anticipation of this thing -- especially as a driver and the nervousness of things that we go through -- you come here and we're going to go out there and run two or three laps, that's all of the practice we're going to do. We used to come here and practice a ton. We'd be out there on the race track and there was things that we could do to change the air boxes. We'd change different things on the car and you would really work on the way your car sucked up to the other car and things like that. Now, you go out there and make sure nothing is going to fall off of it, make sure to get the engine up to oil temperature and everything is going to be fine. It doesn't drag or do anything wild and you put it on jack stands and you go there and you run two laps tomorrow. That's all the time we have on this race track and then you throw us in that race or everything is so important and you don't have that -- to be honest with you, I miss running the Nationwide race because I got acclimated to all of that stuff. All of the craziness that I was fixing to get into at the end of the Cup race, I had already seen it one time and you got used to it. It's a game changer when you get down to the last 20 or 30 laps of this thing and unfortunately we don't have that experience and practice going into it like we used to. It's definitely different. I think that adds to the nervousness a bunch."

Will you be more nervous with this race two weeks later in the Chase next year? "I would say it will be worse next year for sure. You're exactly right. If you do stub your toe here you won't have as much ground to make it up. Right now we have plenty of races left, but like I said, as close as this stuff is right now it just seems like these other race tracks, whether it's a short track or an intermediate, it's not shaking the Chase up much. I saw somebody -- I think it was Darrell Waltrip believe it or not, said something on Twitter, 'Nobody wins the Chase, but every week there's another team that takes themselves out of it.' And, I think it's pretty much true. It seems like every week there's somebody else that makes a mistake and takes themselves out of it until you've got a winner. We all have got to - especially my group -- we've got to make sure that we don't take ourselves out of it."

Does your sponsor prefer that you run up front in the field at Talladega? "Well, it's a big thing but they understand, especially right now. I was at a dinner a couple nights ago and we were talking about, 'What are you going to do? Are you going to get up to the front? Are you going to ride in the back?' As soon as you say, 'Well, I might run in the back,' or have that thought process they say, 'Well, man, are we going to win?' Well, that's my plan. That's why we're going to do that. Here's the thing, if your car is fast and you've got good speed and you qualify up front you need to stay up front. If you don't have the sheer speed and your car is not as good and you qualify 20th or worse you don't want to ride there. You need to ride in the back and wait for it to sort out because riding around out there in the middle and you get caught up in a wreck before halfway, you've completely wiped yourself out of a chance at a decent run and a championship probably. You continue to let Jimmie Johnson and his team get away from you. This is an opportunity for all of us to run them boys back down and get back in the thick of things. And, if they get out of here with a good finish, I'd say the championship is going to be hard to overcome."

Do you and your Michael Waltrip Racing teammates have a plan for this weekend? "Man, my plan was to take off at 10:00 a.m. this morning and be here to see you guys at 11:00 a.m. That's my plan for Talladega. Have a damn good time all weekend."

Source: Toyota Motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Michael Waltrip , Jimmie Johnson , Clint Bowyer , Brad Keselowski
Teams Michael Waltrip Racing
Article type Interview
Tags bowyer, talladega, toyota, waltrip