- Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 November 2008 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 26 November 2008 05:00
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The stress was visible on Clint Bowyers' face and in his voice the final few weeks of the season as last season's Nationwide Series champion Carl Edwards mounted a fierce assault to take over the points lead and repeat as Series champion.
After two unsuccessful attempts at a Nationwide Series Championship, Bowyer was determined not to let it slip away this time.
“Man it feels great,” Bowyer said during the Nationwide Series Championship banquet from Orlando this past week. “We tried twice and came up short and to finally get it done and have your name on that championship trophy means a lot.”
Bowyer was runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. in 2005 and finished third in the standings in 2006. The close finishes did more to inspire Bowyer than discourage him. “I love championships,” said Bowyer. ”I’ve won several of them and I enjoy points racing, I enjoy having a goal to chase after all year. If you’re not racing for a championship, you’re just racing with no cause."
Bowyer’s cause has been evident all season. After a disappointing 25th place finish in the season opener at Daytona, Bowyer reeled off 18 top 10 finishes over the next 20 races, including eight top fives. He took the standings lead from two-time series champion Kevin Harvick after the season's sixth race at Nashville, and never looked back.
Bowyer’s lead over second place grew to as many as 207 points with seven races to go before eventual runner-up Carl Edwards went on a late season tear. Edwards, the 2007 series champion, finished the season with nine straight top five finishes, including wins in three of the last four races.
“It would’ve stunk to lose it,” Bowyer said “To lead that thing the way we did, with a comfortable 200 point margin most of the season and then all of a sudden that last month, the panic came on. It was nerve racking.” He finished with just one victory. In the end, Bowyer and crew chief Dan Deeringhoff held on to the championship by a mere 21 points. The fourth closest margin in series history. Teamwork carried Joe Gibbs Racing to the Nationwide Series owner’s title. A good crew chief used to be defined by his work under the hood of a car. Today, it’s the ability to work with different people and personalities that can make or break team’s fortunes. Dave Rogers, crew chief of the No. 20 Toyota, knew that his people skills would be put to the test in 2008 when Joe Gibbs Racing decided to use a collection of drivers to pilot the car rather than assigning a single driver to the car for the season. Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Deny Hamlin and Joey Logano each won at least one race for Rogers, who carried the team to the 2008 Nationwide Series owner championship.
“It was a very unique experience,” Rogers said. “Of course, we were blessed with four very talented drivers which made it a lot easier. They all had different needs and different wants and they all brought their own personalities to the table.”
Despite the rotation of driver, Rogers credits the entire JGR team for pulling together for the team’s first Series title. Rogers also credits Jason Ratcliff, crew chief of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Nationwide Toyota, saying the two worked together to build the JGR Nationwide Series program into one of the strongest in the sport.
“We do everything together and make every decision together and it helps us,” Rogers said. “If Jason gives me something I can work on it and maybe make it a little better, then I can give it back to him and he works on it a little bit and makes it better, and we just keep building that way. I think that was key to us not becoming stagnant.”
It’s little wonder that Joe Gibbs Racing won this season's Nationwide Series owners' title; of the 35 races on the schedule JGR cars won 19 of them. Crew chief Dave Rogers guided the No. 20 Toyota to 9 wins, 16 top fives, and 26 top tens. Not to be outdone Jason Ratcliff led the No. 18 team to 10 wins, 16 top fives, and 18 top ten finishes.