Bowyer Quietly Closing In On Chase Berth

With just two races remaining before the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series "Chase for the Championship" gets under way, most of the talk has centered around drivers already locked in - or those on the bubble.

Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer quietly sits in ninth place, on the cusp of qualifying for his first Chase after finishing a season-best third at Bristol on Saturday night.

The second-year driver is 223 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is 13th and garnering most of the attention as he tries to overtake Kurt Busch for the final playoff spot.

Bristol winner Carl Edwards also dominated the headlines for clinching a spot in the Chase, joining Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

With a solid showing at California, Bowyer also will be locked in among NASCAR's elite in the quest for the 2007 title.

"I'm not going to count on that just quite yet until it's over, but it's exciting," said Bowyer, who drives for Richard Childress Racing along with fellow top-10 teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. "This is what everybody goes to work for, and all three cars are hopefully headed that way. I'm very excited for everybody."

While it may be exciting for Bowyer to make the Chase, his results on the track this season have not been dramatic - rather merely consistent.

In 24 races, Bowyer has finished in the top 10 in half of his starts. The Emporia, Kansas native also has a pair of top-five finishes, including a fourth on the road course at Sonoma to go along with his solid showing at Bristol.

Perhaps more telling has been Bowyer's ability to avoid points-crippling poor finishes. The 28-year-old has finished 30th or worse just three times - 36th at Las Vegas, 35th at Talladega and 37th at New Hampshire.

"As long as we keep doing what we are doing, top-10s or top-15s on the outside, they can't catch us," Bowyer said. "If we scratch, break or something like that, they win and we have a 40th-place finish, they will catch us pretty quick.

"We just have to stay focused and honed in on what we can control. If we do that, we will be just fine."

The good news for Bowyer is that this is the part of the schedule were he flourished last year en route to a 17th-place finish as a rookie. After his third at California, Bowyer finished in the top 15 five times over the final 11 races, including three top-10s during the Chase races.

"This is when our season turned around last year, these race tracks," Bowyer said. "I don't know why. I think they're some of our better race tracks we run at towards the end. Mile and a half (tracks) have been good for us.

"Bristol has always been good to me believe it or not, so we got to just keep doing what we're doing. We got to turn the corner, got to make that next step and I believe we can do that and when we do we'll be a championship contending team."

If Bowyer does do that, then the buzz will finally be centered around him.

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