NOTEBOOK: Clint Bowyer's title hopes in need of Hail Mary at PhoenixThe next-to-last race of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season was where it all unraveled for Elliott Sadler last year. This season, the penultimate event could be a different story.
By: NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
Clint Bowyer knows the feeling of trying to make water run uphill -- it's been that kind of Chase so far for the third-place driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title hunt.
Despite consistently solid efforts in NASCAR's 10-race playoffs, Bowyer will need more good fortune on his side this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday's AdvoCare 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) to keep his title hopes alive. He'll also need some misfortune on the parts of points leader Jimmie Johnson and second-place Brad Keselowski, both of whom have enjoyed stratospheric performances in the Chase.
"We just have to do what we can do," said Bowyer, who ranks 36 points behind Johnson and 29 off Keselowski's pace. "We certainly don't want to wish bad luck on anybody, but for us to be able to close the gap in this deal, it's going to take some good performances by us and some bad luck from both of the other two guys in front of us. That isn't highly likely, but we'll do our part to keep trying to be competitive. Even if we aren't able to close the deal and get the big one at the end, it'd be nice to win one of these last two. We'll be shooting for that."
It hasn't been for lack of trying for Bowyer, who is facing elimination from title contention this weekend. Aside from a crash-related 23rd-place run at Talladega, Bowyer has finished in the top 10 -- including a win at Charlotte -- in each of the eight rounds of the Chase thus far.
Making headway against Johnson and Keselowski, each of whom have two Chase wins, has been frustratingly futile. But no matter how the 2012 campaign winds up for Bowyer, it's guaranteed to be the most successful season in Michael Waltrip Racing history -- the previous-best MWR finish in Sprint Cup points was David Reutimann's 16th in 2009.
Not bad for a driver-owner pairing that just came together during the most recent offseason.
"I walked in to a very good situation," said Bowyer, who joined Waltrip's team after six seasons with Richard Childress Racing. "Lots of good people here at MWR and there were a lot of good programs that were started and we were able to carry those through the winter. We came out swinging for real at the start of 2012. I've been very proud of everyone for staying motivated and working hard. We are kind of the little team that could or the Bad News Bears, and everybody has to make some sacrifices to get it."
If either Bowyer or Keselowski is to make a dent in Johnson's advantage, they'll have to hope history doesn't repeat itself for the No. 48 team in the desert. Johnson leads the all-time Phoenix win list with four victories and has finished in the top five in all but one of the last 12 races on the 1-mile oval.
In the most recent Phoenix race in March, Johnson finished fourth with Keselowski fifth. Bowyer encountered early trouble with two separate instances of cut tires that left him to settle for a 30th-place finish.
WITH NATIONWIDE POINTS TIED, SADLER AIMS FOR PHOENIX FOLLOW-UP
The next-to-last race of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season was where it all unraveled for Elliott Sadler last year. This season, the penultimate event could be a different story.
Sadler's renewed quest for a first NASCAR national series championship enters another turning point this weekend in Saturday's Great Clips 200 (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Phoenix International Raceway. The points couldn't be any closer, as he enters the race in a dead heat atop the standings with defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last season, Sadler came into Phoenix facing a 17-point deficit behind Stenhouse, but a multi-car crash triggered by Jason Leffler with 23 laps to go effectively derailed his title shot. Sadler was able to reverse some of the sour taste by winning at the mile track earlier this season, an accomplishment he hopes bodes well for Saturday's 200-miler.
"With two races left in the season, there is still a lot to be decided with this championship," Sadler said. "This time last year, we saw our season basically end after being wrecked toward the end of the race. It was a bit of redemption being able to come back and win at Phoenix earlier this season, and I know that we are looking to do the same thing this weekend."
Top rookie Austin Dillon, Sadler's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, ranks third in Nationwide standings, 21 points behind the co-leaders. Sam Hornish Jr., a distant 95 points off the top as the only other driver still mathematically eligible for the championship, scored his only Nationwide series victory in this race last season.
TRUCK TRANSITION FOR BUESCHER AT PHOENIX
The last time the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series raced at Phoenix International Raceway, James Buescher wasn't around at the end to see the checkered flag. Worse, he wasn't around to see the green flag.
What a difference a season makes.
Buescher enters Friday's Lucas Oil 150 (8 p.m. ET, SPEED) at Phoenix as the series points leader with two races left in the season, a far cry from his perspective in the desert in February 2011.
Buescher -- then starting his third full season in the truck series -- failed to make the 36-truck field, missing out on qualifying by just two-hundreths of a second. The misstep arguably changed the complexion of the 2011 title race, where Buescher finished third, just 29 points behind champion Austin Dillon.
Now, Buescher leads the tailgate tour by 15 points over rookie Ty Dillon with a series-high four victories under his belt.
"Last time there we had a rough weekend, but this team has put that weekend behind us," Buescher said. "I feel that all teams are on an even playing field heading into this weekend with the track going through a reconfiguration and resurface since the last time we raced there. To better prepare myself for this weekend, I've been watching a lot of film of previous races."
Ty Dillon chopped six points off Buescher's lead last weekend at Texas and is in the midst of what amounts to a four-man battle for the title. Seven drivers have a mathematical shot to hoist the truck series trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but third-place Timothy Peters (25 points behind Buescher) and fourth-place Parker Kligerman (27 back) have the most realistic chances.
Kyle Larson, the newly crowned champion in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, will make his third career truck series start this weekend. He has finishes of 10th and sixth in his first two efforts.