KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer returned to their home track at Kansas Speedway a year ago at very different points in their careers.
Edwards had claimed the top spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship a week earlier and was locked into a tense title race. Bowyer used the venue to announce his next career move after a nerve-racking summer scouring a limited free agent market.
Things couldn’t be any more different a year later as they’ve returned for today’s race.
It’s Bowyer, in his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing, who is now a title contender. Edwards, who lost the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker, is stuck in neutral after a steep drop-off.
Man, this thing is so competitive, Edwards said. I cannot express to you guys how quickly everyone leapfrogs in the garage.
There is no better example than Bowyer and Edwards of how fast the landscape can change in the Sprint Cup Series.
Edwards, who still lives two hours away in hometown Columbia, Mo., goes into today’s race ranked 15th in the standings. He’s not in the 12-driver Chase field and is stuck in a 64-race winless streak dating to Phoenix in February 2011. It’s the longest drought of his nine-year Sprint Cup career.
Bob Osborne, his longtime crew chief, stepped down midway through this season for health reasons, and Edwards has been adapting since to Chad Norris.
The contrast is Bowyer, from 90 minutes away in Emporia. He’s having the best season of his career with a team he wasn’t even sure he wanted to join.
Bowyer had six good years with Richard Childress Racing and wanted to stay there but couldn’t work out an extension last season. Fledgling MWR persuaded Bowyer to take a chance on them because they had a plan in place toward becoming a legitimate player in NASCAR.
That leap of faith may be the best decision Bowyer’s ever made.
His win last Saturday night at Charlotte was his career-best third of the season and edged him back into the title race. He goes into today’s race ranked fourth in the standings, 28 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
It’s a massive accomplishment for an organization that spent its first years struggling to make races, and now six years later finds itself in a championship battle.
As far as respect, whatever else, I don’t care, Bowyer said. That doesn’t drive me. Enjoying the moment and being in Victory Lane with this group of guys – that’s what drives me. That’s so much fun to be there. That’s what everybody goes to the track for – to see those faces that have been trying so hard over the years to be in Victory Lane and enjoying that.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
NATIONWIDE: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back from two laps down Saturday to win the Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
The race was extended six laps because of a late caution, which helped Stenhouse grab his sixth win of the season because the cars in front of him didn’t have enough gas to make it to the finish.
Sam Hornish Jr. ran out of fuel before the planned restart, which extended the caution period another lap. As the field came to the green, Paul Menard ran out gas.
Kyle Busch then pulled away from the field, but his tank ran dry as he exited the third turn of the final lap. Stenhouse, who had lined up in fourth on the restart, zipped past for the victory.