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Bowyer geared up for start of Sprint Cup season

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Amid last year's thrilling Chase duel between Brad Keselowski and five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer quietly thrust himself into contention.

Bowyer finished as the Cup runner-up behind Keselowski, who salted away the title in the 2012 finale at Homestead-Miami when Johnson slammed the No. 48 Chevrolet into the wall.

Bowyer concedes it's easy to be overshadowed by a perpetual title contender. But he warns everyone not to overlook him this season.

“I don't think we overachieved because I think when you say overachieved it means you did more than you're capable of,” Bowyer said Tuesday at the annual NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I just think we were beyond expectations and what people expected of us.

“I've looked forward to this year and what we have in front of us and the opportunities ahead with this new car and continue to build on what we had last year. What's more important to me right now is making sure we get the year started off right, and the only way I know to do that is to win the Daytona 500.”

Bowyer, who will pilot the No. 15 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, will be among the favorites when the green flag drops at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 24. And his competitive fire will be stoked by a desire to remain among the Cup elite.

Bowyer has advanced to the Chase four times over the past six seasons. Still, in working his way to the lead pack of championship contenders, the Kansas native wasn't considered a legitimate threat to Keselowski and Johnson.

“I've certainly had good success in the Chase before. We finished third a few years back. It is hard to back up a great year like that,” Bowyer said. “I guess the one thing I see with our team is we're so young.

Now, that seemingly has changed. Bowyer is convinced he's prepared to make another run for the title, especially with MWR narrowing the competitive gap with Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

In addition to Bowyer, Waltrip expects Martin Truex and Brian Vickers to contend for a spot in the Chase. Also, he will share a ride with veteran Mark Martin.

“We'd like to do one spot better than we did last year — that would be awesome,” Waltrip said. “It would be cool to have two bullets up there in the fight to have a couple of them racing for the championship. Our goals are to win more races than we did in 2012 and put two cars in the Chase.”

Bowyer, who spent six years with Childress Racing, said there is a little more pressure on all of the cars at Waltrip Racing.

“I feel like we're ready for it, and I feel like the speeds are there in the race cars,” Bowyer said.

Bowyer reflected only briefly on how the title was lost last year. He spent most of his time moving on, but a bitter finish in the fall race at Talladega still haunts him.

“The one race I wish I had back was Talladega,” said Bowyer, who finished 23rd after starting third. “I think that was the one that cost us a shot at a championship. It just got us too far behind and it was frustrating because two laps before that I was leading the darn thing.

“That was the one race I wish I had back to keep us in the hunt.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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