Clint Bowyer comes to New England this weekend looking a bit like the local baseball team.
No, Bowyer is getting along just fine with his teammates and he's as fit as a fiddle, unlike the disparate and disabled Red Sox. Where Bowyer and the Sox find common ground is in their standing.
Much like the baseball team in these parts, the 33-year-old Bowyer entered the midway point of the regular season on a down note, falling to 10th in the Chase standings. He is part of what could become a crowded house attempting to make a second-half push for the playoffs, in this case the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Bowyer is hopeful that some New England hospitality, of which the Red Sox have felt little as they limped into the All-Star break, will help him turn the corner and secure another spot in the Chase. If history is any guide, he will leave the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon pointed in the right direction.
"It's just one of those tracks where I feel like we can win again at, but more importantly, we can get things steered back in the right direction like we had through the month of June," Bowyer said Tuesday. "We had a lot of solid runs right there, and that's what it takes, especially at this point in the year. & If we can get ourselves another win it would be huge. But the biggest thing is don't do something stupid and knock ourselves out of this Chase."
Bowyer has two wins and four top-10 finishes at Loudon, which hosts the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday. Both wins came in the Sylvania 300, run in September on the return trip to Loudon. Bowyer expects to make that second excursion to New Hampshire in great shape, but the past few weeks have cast a tiny bit of doubt on the situation.
After a win in Sonoma on June 24, Bowyer ranked seventh in the Chase standings. He has since stumbled to that precarious 10th position, nestled atop the "bubble," with eight races to go before the Chase begins. He finished out of the top 15 at the Quaker State 400 on June 30 and saw his day come to a premature end at Daytona last weekend when he got caught up in a 14-car crash just laps from the finish. The accident led to a 29th-place finish and leaves Bowyer looking over his shoulder at two-time Cup champion Carl Edwards, who sits 31 points back in 11th place, a sizable but not insurmountable gap.
Falling out of the top 10 would force Bowyer to qualify as one of the two wild-card entrants. The win in Sonoma will help in that regard (of those ranked 11-20 at the end of the regular season, two entrants are chosen based first on the highest number of race wins). However, the sting of Daytona is still there.
"You can't control what happened last weekend at Daytona. It was a bad deal," Bowyer said. "We got crashed at Kentucky the week before, and got lucky and salvaged a halfway decent run. Daytona, you're riding around there, trying to do everything I could do to stay out of trouble, and I waited until the end to try to get up through them, and I got caught up that wreck. It's just the nature of the beast there. You either leave Daytona happy or you leave there frustrated and pretty much pissed off. It was my turn to be pissed off."
And maybe just a tad concerned. Bowyer said that the accident and subsequent fall back left him on the "worry train."
In addition to the positive runs at Loudon, the two-time Chase participant can cite two other scenarios which lend to a momentum-builder Sunday. He loves the short tracks, which bodes well for Loudon's "Magic Mile," and he has the horses around him to engineer a solid afternoon.
That would be his new team, Michael Waltrip Racing, whom Bowyer joined last fall. Teammate Martin Truex is eighth in the Chase standings, and the group as a whole is feeling pretty good about its situation entering New England for the first time this year.
"Couldn't ask for a better situation to step into [in October] as all three MWR teams were firing on all eight cylinders, really working together," Bowyer added. "Teamwork is everything, and with a multicar team that we have, it's just so crucial that everybody works together and is pulling on the rope in the same direction. That's what's going on. It's just fun. Fun to be a part of it.
"Our win [at Sonoma] was big for our organization, for our team in particular, our 5-hour Energy Toyota. The last couple of weekends have not been very good. Daytona was kind of a disaster for us, but looking forward to getting into New Hampshire, where I usually have a pretty good run."
In addition to Truex's No. 56 car, the third member of that team is Brian Vickers, who enters with some momentum after a fourth-place showing at Sonoma, his last race in the Sprint Cup Series. Vickers also finished fifth in Bristol back in March and had a top-10 showing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he raced for MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman.
Vickers is running part time for MWR, but two of his six scheduled races are in New Hampshire. That suits the North Carolina native just fine, even if he has no plans to return for some skiing.
"It's always special to be there, and it's such a beautiful part of the country, particularly in the summer. The winters are a little cold, but in the summer, it's absolutely gorgeous," Vickers said. "The track itself is a great track. I've always enjoyed racing there. I don't know particularly why. I just like the track. It feels good. I like the racing. I think it takes a lot of finesse getting in and out of the corners. It's really easy to overdrive. I like those kind of tracks.
"In general, New Hampshire's always a race I look forward to."
Vickers owns two top-five finishes at New Hampshire, as well as one pole. In his visits here and at other locales where residents flock to their local track, he has recognized the significance of that attraction.
"It's great for the communities," he said. "Sporting events are an integral part of the American culture. Racing has to be at the top of that list. Everyone talks about baseball and some of the other stick and ball sports, but you can't deny that automobiles and their part in racing are an icon of the American culture."
Even in a place often dominated by the Red Sox.
Tony Lee is a regular contributor to ESPNBoston.com.