Race Weekend Central

A Tale of Two Drivers: Karma Can Take Years Sometimes

It feels great when a car is running for the lead and the entire grandstand gets up to cheer. Such were the moments at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as Martin Truex Jr. made a run for the front several times during the glittering September afternoon.  It was clear that the mild mattered kid from New Jersey still holds a special place in the New England race fan’s heart.

However, that giddy happiness does extend past the Magic Mile.  NASCAR Nation just plain likes Truex.  They also like seeing the single car team of Furniture Row Racing reach for the Cup.  Just having the No. 78 in the Chase does our hearts good.  It’s almost like we’re heading toward the kind of happy ever after usually delegated to fairy tales.

Well, where there is light, there must also be dark.  The No. 15 struggled around the flat track on Sunday, bringing home a predictable 22nd place finish while Clint Bowyer lingers above that magical 30th points place position in 27th.  This has not been a great year for the sunny mid-western driver.  In fact, he’s been fighting to stay out of the toilet bowl since about the same time that Truex saw his career take a turn in the right direction.

We can call it karma or a reflection of each driver’s ability.  But on a fateful night in September three years ago, both of the former MWR drivers got caught up in something they probably wish never happened.  In an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the final race of the regular season at Richmond, Bowyer followed orders by Ty Norris to spin out and draw a caution.  This was an attempt to ensure that Truex would slip into the 2013 Chase in the last wildcard spot.

After NASCAR was done destroying Michael Waltrip Racing’s chances at snaring a Cup that season, the rest of the fallout for one of the most obvious cases of cheating in NASCAR history continued to hinder MWR’s ability to compete in the future.

Truex did not wait for the complete destruction of his NAPA team, but instead left and took a ride in the sometimes competitive No. 78 for the 2014 season.  He declared he was hoping to raise this group of competitors into the upper ranks of the sport–they just needed a little help.  2014 went by with glimpses of improvement at the single car shop, but come 2015 Truex rocketed his team right up to the top, winning a race and finishing 4th in the Chase.  At the close of the year, Furniture Row announced their switch to Toyota and an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. From the first lap at Daytona, the No. 78 has been nothing but fast and has all the earmarks of a championship team as the 2016 season grinds to a close.  Cinderella’s castle is glittering in the setting sun.

Meanwhile, Bowyer slogged on at MWR for 2014-2015 until the funding, contracts and sponsors fizzled out.  He did land the coveted No. 14 ride over at SHR for 2017, but 2016 held no hope.  Fortunately, his future boss Tony Stewart worked with their alliance over at Hendrick Motorsports and HScott Motorsports, and bodged together a ride for the future SHR driver in the No. 51 car, known for years as a backmarker and sometimes start & park Sprint Cup team.  As 2016 has passed by, so has Bowyer’s year having led a single lap and finished in the top 10 just three times.  In three short years he went from a driver who was seriously competing for a Cup to somebody the booth can barely find time to mention. Sort of like he ended up in Shrek’s swamp.

Will Bowyer find the silver lining in 2017 once he joins the No. 14 team?  That’s a very good question.  There’s no doubt the SHR crew know how to put together competitive rides, but Tony Stewart has been an excellent example of the driver is the one that puts the car in Victory Lane when all is said and done.  Does Bowyer really have the chops to follow in Smoke’s footsteps?

Ultimately, while Truex and Bowyer were both unwitting participants in a dark moment in our sport, their paths prove life does go on, but not necessarily in the same direction. I’d love for Truex to take the Cup this year. In fact, I’d like to see Bowyer succeed over at Stewart Haas when all is said and done. However, right now I can’t help but feel that karma has been busy of late.  Here’s hoping she doesn’t need to be doling out so much of the negative kind in the future.

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