CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Clint Bowyer began the season with a three-year contract to drive for Michael Waltrip. He got an even better deal - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - before he even completed the first season of his new contract.
Bowyer is the successor for three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, who will retire at the end of 2016. Bowyer will get into the No. 14 Chevrolet in 2017.
He became available when MWR decided to cease operations at the end of this season and released Bowyer from his contract.
''I don't think I got fired; it just went away, and somehow (I) landed in a way better situation,'' Bowyer said at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he was introduced Wednesday alongside Stewart. ''Do you ever hear that term, `When you fall in a pile of cow manure and come out smelling like roses?' That's exactly what this is for me.''
The day wasn't a complete success for Bowyer: His championship chances effectively ended when an appeals panel found NASCAR was correct in penalizing the No. 15 team for an illegally modified part two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway.
The penalty cost Bowyer 25 points in the standings and dropped him to last in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Four drivers from the 16-driver field will be eliminated this weekend in Dover, Delaware. Barring a victory, Bowyer will not advance to the second round.
He made no mention Wednesday of the penalty or his time at MWR. He was focused only on the opportunity ahead of him, and indicated he will announce soon where he will spend 2016 as he waits out Stewart's final year. Bowyer is likely headed to HScott Motorsports in a deal that will give him a seat and the team support from SHR.
''You have an opportunity to sit in one of the best rides ever in the history of the sport,'' Bowyer said. ''This is a champion's seat that I'm filling. This is an unbelievable opportunity. To think of that door opening, and holy cow, the timing couldn't have been any better for myself. Somebody was looking after me.
''When I heard that that seat was open, I was on board. They didn't have to call me.''
BUSCH'S BAD BREAK: The rollercoaster season for Kyle Busch took another turn last weekend when a crash in the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship put his title hopes in jeopardy.
Busch, who missed the first third of the season with a broken right leg and broken left foot suffered in a crash at Daytona, had rallied during his return to earn a tie for the top seed in the 16-driver Chase field.
He was running in the top 10 Sunday at New Hampshire when an issue with his right front tire sent Busch crashing into the wall. His 37th-place finish dropped him to 14th in the standings headed into the first elimination race of the Chase. The bottom four drivers at Dover International Speedway this weekend will be cut from the Chase.
''We just need to execute as a team,'' Busch said. ''Dover has been a good place for me. We ran really well there in June until we got in an accident late.''
Dover has statistically been one of the better tracks for Busch. He has two Sprint Cup wins, five Xfinity Series wins and four Truck Series wins at Dover in his career. Busch has also led 1,018 laps in his previous 21 Sprint Cup starts at Dover, an average of almost 50 per race.
When he ran there in June, it was his second race upon returning from injury. Busch was running third with 30 laps to go before he wrecked with a lapped car.
He's looking forward to the challenge Sunday.
''I love that place,'' Busch said of Dover. ''It will scare you the first time you race there. It's definitely a roller-coaster ride and you need to treat it like it's fun and not to be scared of the place, I think, because you can get so much out of that place.''
PASTRANA-LAS VEGAS: Action sports star Travis Pastrana is making a brief return to NASCAR in a one-race deal to drive this weekend's Truck Series race at Las Vegas.
Pastrana will drive NTS Motorsports' No. 31 Chevrolet.
''Couldn't be more excited right now,'' Pastrana said.
It will only be the second Truck Series race for Pastrana, who also ran the Las Vegas event in 2012. Most of Pastrana's NASCAR experience came in 2013 in his lone full season in the XFINITY Series. He ended 14th in the final standings that year.
He then announced he would not return to NASCAR in 2014 because of his poor results, lack of sponsorship and a growing family.
Since leaving NASCAR, Pastrana has competed in RallyCross and off-road racing, in addition to his career as a motocross stunt performer.