AVONDALE. Arizona—Clint Bowyer knows the feeling of trying to make water run uphill -- it's been that kind of Chase so far for the third-place driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title hunt.
Despite consistently solid efforts in NASCAR's 10-race playoffs, Bowyer will need more good fortune on his side this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday's AdvoCare 500 to keep his title hopes alive. He'll also need some misfortune on the parts of points leader Jimmie Johnson and second-place Brad Keselowski, both of whom have enjoyed stratospheric performances in the Chase.
"We just have to do what we can do," said Bowyer, who ranks 36 points behind Johnson and 29 off Keselowski's pace. "We certainly don't want to wish bad luck on anybody, but for us to be able to close the gap in this deal, it's going to take some good performances by us and some bad luck from both of the other two guys in front of us. That isn't highly likely, but we'll do our part to keep trying to be competitive. Even if we aren't able to close the deal and get the big one at the end, it'd be nice to win one of these last two. We'll be shooting for that."
It hasn't been for lack of trying for Bowyer, who is facing elimination from title contention this weekend. Aside from a crash-related 23rd-place run at Talladega, Bowyer has finished in the top 10 -- including a win at Charlotte -- in each of the eight rounds of the Chase thus far.
Making headway against Johnson and Keselowski, each of whom have two Chase wins, has been frustratingly futile. But no matter how the 2012 campaign winds up for Bowyer, it's guaranteed to be the most successful season in Michael Waltrip Racing history -- the previous-best MWR finish in Sprint Cup points was David Reutimann's 16th in 2009.
Not bad for a driver-owner pairing that just came together during the most recent offseason.
"I walked in to a very good situation," said Bowyer, who joined Waltrip's team after six seasons with Richard Childress Racing. "Lots of good people here at MWR and there were a lot of good programs that were started and we were able to carry those through the winter. We came out swinging for real at the start of 2012. I've been very proud of everyone for staying motivated and working hard. We are kind of the little team that could or the Bad News Bears, and everybody has to make some sacrifices to get it."
If either Bowyer or Keselowski is to make a dent in Johnson's advantage, they'll have to hope history doesn't repeat itself for the No. 48 team in the desert. Johnson leads the all-time Phoenix win list with four victories and has finished in the top five in all but one of the last 12 races on the 1-mile oval.
In the most recent Phoenix race in March, Johnson finished fourth with Keselowski fifth. Bowyer encountered early trouble with two separate instances of cut tires that left him to settle for a 30th-place finish.