Three months ago, Clint Bowyer probably would have considered earning a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup spot for lame duck Michael Waltrip Racing a lost cause.
But an uptick in performance by the No. 15 Toyota team, after a crew chief swap began to bear fruit, has Bowyer poised to claim the last of 16 spots in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
Bowyer has several routes to the Chase. If he wins Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway , he’s in. Two of Bowyer’s eight career victories have come at RIR.
If of the 15 other drivers currently in Chase-eligible positions wins on Saturday, Bowyer makes the Chase if he remains ahead of Aric Almirola in the standings. Bowyer leads Almirola by 29 points entering the final regular-season race, with each point equaling one position on the track.
Even if a driver outside the top 16 happens to take the checkered flag, Bowyer can still qualify for the playoff by moving ahead of one of the drivers in front of him in the standings. Closest within reach are Paul Menard (10 points ahead of Bowyer) and Jeff Gordon (18 points ahead).
“I’m telling you, two months ago I didn’t see this even being a shot, and they (the No. 15 team) really dug deep and worked hard. We switched crew chiefs (before the June race at Michigan), we switched some key components of the organization around and, boom, it took off and we marched our way into the Chase talk.”