Clint Bowyer. Remember him? Good looking guy from America's heartland who used to be able to drive the wheels off any kind of race car there is?
First, let's remember him in a positive way: He finished second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings last season, and was second heading into the final pre-Chase race at Richmond last month.
Now, unfortunately for fans of the driver of the No. 15 Toyota, come the negative remembrances:
- Who can forget the infamous spin he made at Richmond last month, the same one Bowyer to this day insists was not intentional?
- Who can forget the rest of the Michael Waltrip Racing fiasco at Richmond that, while Bowyer was fortunate to remain in the Chase, saw teammate Martin Truex Jr. knocked out—not to mention paving the way for both Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon to become Chase contenders?
- Worse yet, what's happened to Bowyer since the Chase began? Certainly few would have expected the same guy who was runner-up in last year's championship run to have such a terrible run in this year's Chase to date.
Unfortunately, that's the case for Bowyer, who enters Saturday night's race at Charlotte in ninth place in the Chase standings, all but a forgotten man when it comes to being a contender for this year's championship.
After coming into Richmond ranked second in the standings, he left in a five-way tie for eighth place after the Chase rankings were reseeded.
And in the four races since then, Bowyer has gone from eighth to 10th to eighth and now ninth in the standings.
His race finishes in the Chase have been somewhat up and down, winding up ninth (Chicago), 17th (New Hampshire), 10th (Dover) and 14th (Kansas).
Has Clint Bowyer's disappointing start in this year's Chase been a surprise to you, especially in light of what happened in the last pre-Chase race at Richmond?
Oh yes, and I might add that after 30 races this season, he's still looking for his first Sprint Cup win of 2013.
Heading into Charlotte, Bowyer is closer to the last-place Chase driver—28 points ahead of 13th-ranked Kasey Kahne—than he is to series leader Matt Kenseth, who is 55 points ahead of Bowyer.
Those are both pretty serious gaps either way you look at them, especially after just four of the Chase's 10 races.
Unfortunately, things likely are not going to get much better for Bowyer in the six remaining races.
Of the six tracks left in the 10th edition of the Chase—Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead—Bowyer has a total of just three previous wins (twice at Talladega, once at Charlotte).
Sure, he came close to a win in last season's finale at Homestead, finishing second to Jeff Gordon—who intentionally wrecked Bowyer a week before, essentially ending any mathematical chances Bowyer had of catching eventual champ Brad Keselowski.
But given his overall lack of consistency and success at most of the six tracks still coming up, I'm betting (pun intended) that Bowyer is not being looked upon as still having much of a shot at the championship in the Las Vegas odds.
Rather than answers to what has happened to him thus far in the Chase, all we have are questions.
Did Bowyer forget to drive once the Chase began?
Has he lost some of his competitive drive as a result of the fallout of the MWR scandal?
Is he afraid he's being watched like a hawk by NASCAR officials?
Has his insistence—right or wrong—that he did nothing wrong in the now infamous spin at Richmond essentially come back to haunt him?
Might it have been better to admit he was guilty—if indeed he was—and take his punishment from the court of public opinion (not to mention NASCAR), instead of the Richmond incident hanging over his head each and every day since?
Will Bowyer ever be able to recover from the Richmond spin and the resulting fallout since?
Right now, there are as many—if not more—questions swirling around Bowyer and the Chase and his future than there were right after the Richmond incident.
Sadly, instead of having a Chase that could be perhaps the most memorable of his career, Bowyer appears destined to end up with one of the most forgettable chapters of his racing life six weeks from now.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski