Best Daytona 500 Debut No. 5: Clint Bowyer Charges Through 2006 Field (Note: This is the first installment in a five-part series on the best Daytona 500 debuts by either rookie of the year candidates or drivers making what amounted to an initial...
Best Daytona 500 Debut No. 5: Clint Bowyer Charges Through 2006 Field
(Note: This is the first installment in a five-part series on the best Daytona 500 debuts by either rookie of the year candidates or drivers making what amounted to an initial "NASCAR cameo" appearance in the event. Today, we take a look at No. 5 in the countdown -- Clint Bowyer's sixth-place finish in 2006, after he started the race in 37th.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 5, 2009) -- This third annual "Best of the Daytona 500" series focuses on driver debuts in the Great American Race.
There have indeed been some classics.
In determining the hypothetical best five debuts, drivers' results in both the 500 and the qualifying races were factors -- or not. In the case of the fifth-best Daytona 500 debut, it was all about the big show.
Clint Bowyer, driving the No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, started all the way back in 37th in the 2006 Daytona 500. But he didn't stay there long.
After 20 laps, he jumped to 23rd.
After 20 more, he was 19th.
And by Lap 60, he was in the top 15.
When the checkered flag flew, he crossed the stripe in sixth place.
Not surprisingly, according to NASCAR's Loop Data statistics, Bowyer had more passes than any other driver that day -- an incredible 304.
It was the start of a, let's say, "interesting" relationship between Bowyer and the Daytona 500. The glory of finishing solidly in the top 10 as a rookie was followed by the agony of famously sliding across the finish line on his roof only one year later.
Bowyer's 2006 Daytona Result Was Early Glimpse Of His Potential
Notable 500 First-Timers in 2006: Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., David Stremme and J.J. Yeley.
The Intangible: The 2006 rookie class was the strongest in years, yet this was still the Daytona 500. Talent alone likely wouldn't be enough to overcome the awe of a driver's first Daytona 500. Perhaps that played into the fact that only one rookie finished in the top 10, and only two finished in the top 20.
The Recap: Bowyer's first trip to Daytona started with a solid effort on Pole Day, as he qualified sixth-fastest -- earning the fourth starting position in the first of the two Gatorade Duel qualifying races. But he then went on to finish 21st in his qualifier, relegating him to the 37th spot on the 500's starting grid. Combining consistency and the ability to avoid several accidents that ruined others' chances, Bowyer steadily climbed through the field. ... Bowyer's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, Jeff Burton started on the pole. ... Jimmie Johnson proceeded to win the 500, getting an immediate boost toward what would be the first of his three consecutive championship seasons.
Bowyer's Take: Despite his impressive finish, Bowyer wanted more. He thought a green-white-checkered finish worked against him at the end. "Didn't really want to see that," Bowyer said. "We had some momentum going. I think we could have maybe passed a couple more of them."
The Follow-Up: Bowyer finished 17th in the series standings that season, and second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race to Hamlin. Since then, he has been one of the top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finishing third in the points in 2007 and fifth in 2008. He has a victory in each of the last two seasons -- at New Hampshire in 2007 and Richmond in 2008. He also won last season's NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. ... He starts the 2009 season in a new RCR entry, the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet.