SO DOMINANT was Clint Bowyer's victory at New Hampshire International Speedway, in Loudon, in the opening race of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, that no less an authority than four-time champ Jeff Gordon proclaimed the performance "incredible." Bowyer, the only winless driver to qualify for the 2007 postseason, put on a clinic in his Chase debut, leading a race-high 222 laps, 26 more than he'd led in all the races of his career (63) combined. As a result he jumped from 12th to fourth in the standings.
For Bowyer, 28, the win was especially sweet because he was picked by most observers to finish at or near the bottom of the Chase standings. The victory was also immensely satisfying for Bowyer's crew chief at Richard Childress Racing, Gil Martin, who had coaxed his driver and his team through the 26-race regular season with an eye always, he says, on "the big picture." Instead of taking risks to go after wins and top five finishes, Martin steadfastly chose to play it safe—Bowyer, whose two top fives were the fewest of any driver in the Chase, is one of only three Cup regulars to have finished every race in 2007.
Martin's approach might not have worked with a more headstrong pilot, but in Bowyer he seemed to have the perfect mix of patience and ability as they pursued their strategy. That doesn't mean Bowyer wasn't primed for his breakout. The car that Martin prepared for him on Sunday had a multitude of chassis and engine modifications that made it a different ride from what Bowyer was used to during the season. Any doubts about the new car and the driver's ability to handle it vanished, though, in the early going, after Bowyer surrendered the lead to Chase favorites Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon coming off pit row during a caution on Lap 68. Restarting fourth, Bowyer ran both drivers down over the next 37 miles. He would never trail either man again.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, September 24, 2007