Bowyer must win more races to take next step in NASCAR career

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Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick would have glared, followed by a biting retort. Kyle Busch might have walked out. But Clint Bowyer's nature is easy going. He smiles when he answers questions, even those that hurt.

Here's a prime example, from Sunday's post-race media conference after Bowyer lost by .002 seconds to Jimmie Johnson, tying the record for closest finish in an electronic clocked race in NASCAR history:

QUESTION: Any satisfaction to know that your name is NASCAR history is losing by...

CLINT BOWYER: "Hell, no, that sucks (laughter). It's never very good to know you made NASCAR history by losing. Sooner or later, I need to start making history by winning. That guy's won enough (chuckling). The only thing that bums me out about that is those guys lagged back all day long. That's what makes it tough, losing to somebody that did that. We were up front for our sponsors and our team and digging all day long. When you get it taken from you at the end by somebody who lagged back all day, it's hard to take."

Have no doubt, Bowyer was extremely frustrated to come so close. Those down-to-the-wire races where you become first loser are the most difficult for any driver to swallow. Bowyer's runner-up at Texas in the previous race by 8.315 seconds to Matt Kenseth had the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.

"It was a good night, a good weekend," Bowyer said at Texas. "Really proud of everybody... . We've come on, we've had solid runs and we're clicking now. That's what it takes in this sport. You've got to be able to get on a momentum swing, get some confidence built back up, and you have to start with that. Just so proud of everybody for digging in deep, and bringing in good equipment to the racetrack and having great finishes. I got in the lead there and got away from him once, but I was driving as hard as I possibly could to stay in front of him, obviously.

"I got into the 83 car (Brian Vickers) and about ruined our night for us. But it was a solid run. It was a run we could be proud of."

Bowyer understood at Texas that his car wasn't capable of beating Kenseth. But he'll be replaying that last lap at Talladega in his mind for a while, thinking of what he might have done differently to gain .003 seconds. He'll relive the frustration, too.

"Man, what a bummer," Bowyer said. "Man, I saw them coming and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and I were trying to suck off each other and break each other's momentum and drag racing each other so much, I was like, 'Oh, no, block 'em, block 'em, block 'em.' I knew if he (Gordon) dipped down to block them, that we had the race won. But we just come up short. It's frustrating. I know the importance of getting a race win right now is big.

"You know that win; if I would have won right there, it could have put me in the Chase. I was thinking about that. That's going to be important throughout the year, and you know, that was a good shot at it. It just slipped through our fingers."

Texas and Talladega were different races for Bowyer with the same result and, in the big picture, that's what matters most. Bowyer is in a groove, doing what he does best: scoring points in bunches with top-five and top-10 finishes.

Bowyer was 24th in the points following Bristol, where an engine failure left him 35th. He's put together four straight top-10s, seventh at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., ninth at Martinsville and the back-to-back seconds at Texas and Talladega. He's 10th in the points eight races into the regular season.

This has been Bowyer's modus operandi since he arrived full time in Cup in 2006. He didn't make the Chase his rookie season, but he's been in it three of the past four years. Bowyer has 29 top-fives, including four wins, and, with 83, has been in the top-10 in 43.9 percent of his career 189 starts.

Bowyer isn't flashy. He doesn't run over cars to get ahead. He doesn't crash on his own because he doesn't overdrive it. He races smart, takes advantage of what he's got and brings it home. Bowyer has the primary element of winning a championship, consistency in the top-10, which gets you into the Chase. But, ultimately, Bowyer knows he must win more races to become a Cup champion. That's the next step he has to make.