After a week off, the stars and cars of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series return to the track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.
It is the first of two races to be run on the one-mile track this season and marks the second time this season the Sprint Cup Series will have run under the lights on a Saturday night.
Coming off a second-place finish two weeks ago at Talladega, in which he lost by 0.002 seconds to Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer enters this weekend as one of the favorites. Richmond has been one of Bowyer's best tracks in young Sprint Cup Series career.
In 10 career starts at RIR, Bowyer has one win, and five top-10 finishes. He has never finished worse than 18th at this track, out of the 4,010 laps that have been run during that time, Bowyer has completed every one of them.
Bowyer was asked about coming back to Richmond, which he has called his favorite track on the schedule, he said, "Well, hopefully more of the same. Our cars have been running well. We've been doing a good job at the racetrack here as of late, about the last month. It's been really, really good for us, so just hopefully can continue to ride that momentum wave and get a good finish and win one of these things."
Winning is something that Bowyer has done four times in his Sprint Cup career, but has been close many more times. He was asked about what it would take for him to wind up in victory lane on a more consistent basis.
"You know, just continue to improve. Myself, I have things I can improve on, our race team, our communication together. There's just a lot of things that you can do that you have to fine tune" said Bowyer.
"I don't think it's any one big thing that's keeping us from winning multiple races and being a bigger threat. It's just more of the same, continue to, like I said, improve. I feel like we've done that. I feel like I've gotten better each and every year I've been in a car and in this sport, and it's time to take that next step" he added.
He was close to take taking that step the last time the Sprint Cup cars were on the track. In what turned out to be an eight-man drag race to the finish, Bowyer missed out on claiming the checkered flag by the slimmest of margins. The exciting finish tied for the closest in NASCAR history.
He was asked about the wild finish. He answered, "Man, it was a bummer. It's so hard to win these races, and when you're losing by that close, like man, you know, why couldn't it have just as easily been the other way around? And it could have been. The sheer excitement of being in a race that finishes well like that did, it was big. That carried over the off weekend."
After having to relive the agony of his close call, he was asked to talk about his feelings of the new two by two form of racing at both Daytona and Talladega.
He replied to that by saying, "I think it's a blast. It's challenging throughout the race, and it gives you something else to do."
Bowyer added, (in the past) "we were just praying when the wreck happened that you would either be in front of it or far enough behind it that you could get slowed down, and nine times out of ten that wasn't the case. You'd be caught up in it, and it's completely out of your hands, nowhere to go, and you'd get wiped out and that was that."
Finishing his thought on Talladega, he said, "You can control so much more now with the two cars, whether you want to stay up front, or you want to go to the back. If you go to the back you can pretty well with somebody's help get back up there and with the right decisions can put yourself back in position, as Jimmie did."
"But I'm a fan of the way it is, and if the fans like it, which I hope they do, hopefully they'll keep it around" he added.
Bowyer has been one of the hottest drivers on the circuit over the last month. He started the season with four finishes outside the top 10, and was all the way down in 24th place in the standings.
Since then, he has scored four straight top-10's including back-to-back runner up finishes, and has moved up to 10th place in the standings.
He was asked about his and his team's resurgence, and what has brought on the transformation. Bower responded with, "Just ran well. I mean, that's all it takes, to run well and bring good equipment to the racetrack and do a good job on race day."
"I mean, very proud of our race team to get things turned around. The first four races were just terrible, and we dug in deep and got things turned around and had a decent run at Martinsville and just kind of continued to build on that and get that ball rolling" he added.
The interview concluded with Bowyer being asked about Richard Childress Racing as a whole, and how he would compare his team to the other top teams in the sport.
Bowyer said, "I feel like we've picked up pretty much where we left off, and I would say that's pretty big considering we brought in another team. We weren't successful with that before. We've brought in another team, we've found success with it, and we're all working well together as one."
He finished the thought by saying "Kevin has won twice, I've been right there a couple times, and things are good, they really are. We're as competitive as we've been, and I feel like we can improve on some things and get us some more wins."
So as the series heads into Richmond this weekend, look for Bowyer to be one of the primary contenders from start to finish.
He has everything going for him right now. He is going to track where he has had past success, his team is running well and building good race cars. And he has a lot of momentum on his side.
He is coming off two straight second place finishes and would love nothing more than to add another Richmond trophy to his collection. He already has one, that came as a result of a wild finish back in 2008.
"That one was just completely—shocked me, and it was out of the blue, and it was one that was so much fun to celebrate because it was such a surprise. I know where that trophy is at, and that's the main goal there."
Don't be surprised if Bowyer and the No. 33 team see their runner-up streak end at two, and start a streak of first place finishes in the process.