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Bowyer puts Richmond in rearview

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POSTED October 28, 2013 10:02 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Clint Bowyer fielded fan questions for nearly 30 minutes Monday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where the topics covered everything from his recent appearance on an episode of “Duck Dynasty” to his displeasure with people who text while driving. Not a single person asked him about Richmond.

Finally, nearly two months after Bowyer spun late in the race that set the field for the Sprint Cup-deciding Chase, the scandal is finally fading into his rearview mirror.

His actions in the Sept. 7 race triggered a massive chain reaction that knocked the wind out of NASCAR as it headed into its championship portion of the season. Michael Waltrip Racing was crippled with the loss of a longtime sponsor, and Martin Truex Jr. and 15 percent of the MWR workforce were given pink slips.

Bowyer, one of the most popular drivers inside the garage, suddenly found he was considered Public Enemy
No. 1 among a fan base that only in the last few years had begun to appreciate his talent and humor.

“I was in middle of a storm, certain kind of storm. A four-lettered storm is what I’d call that,” Bowyer said Monday.

It took a toll on the freewheeling country boy from Kansas. He was second in the points heading into the Richmond race and thought he’d challenge for a championship this year. Then came the fallout from Richmond, where NASCAR said MWR deliberately manipulated the finish of the race in an attempt to get Truex into the 12-driver Chase field.

The Chase was effectively over for Bowyer before it began. He opened with a ninth-place finish at Chicago, where points leader Matt Kenseth won, and was 17th the next week at New Hampshire, where Kenseth won again. Just like that, Bowyer was 10th in the standings and out of the title hunt.

He acknowledged Monday the Richmond drama “definitely” contributed to the No. 15 team stumbling out of the gate.

Bowyer wasn’t the same off the track, either. Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted last month that it had been difficult to watch Bowyer suffer through the backlash from fans.

“Clint is a good guy and obviously was just following orders,” Earnhardt said. “He did some things that were out of characIt’s the third time since 2010 that Bowyer’s title chances were yanked out from underneath him in the blink of an eye.

He opened the 2010 Chase with a win at New Hampshire that vaulted him from 12th to second in the standings. Then NASCAR ruled his car was illegal, docked him 150 points, and the lengthy appeal process wore down his race team.

Last year, Bowyer used a win at Charlotte at the midpoint of the Chase to move to fourth, then close to third in the standings with the leaders in sight with two races remaining. But an angry Jeff Gordon chose the penultimate race to settle a vendetta and deliberately wrecked Bowyer late in the race at Phoenix.

It ended his title chances with one race remaining, and this year he hardly got out of the gate.

“Just been the story of my career in NASCAR. Two steps forward and one back,” he said. “A lot of that except for this last time, I didn’t have anything to do with it.  ... Certainly one of them I had something to do with it. It’s tough, but hey, man, it’s life. Life’s tough. It ain’t going to slow me down. I have a blast doing this.”

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