Clint Bowyer needed convincing.

So did the pundits who didn't think he could switch cars, crews and crew chiefs without a significant fall-off in performance on the track.

Bowyer qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2007 and 2008, finishing third and fifth, respectively, in the final standings. When team owner Richard Childress signed Casey Mears to drive a fourth RCR car, however, he opted to put Mears in the Bowyer's #07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet with Gil Martin as his crew chief.

That left Bowyer to drive the #33 Chevy with first-year Cup crew chief Shane Wilson captaining a new pit crew. Conventional wisdom said that breaking up the successful Bowyer-Martin combination would work to Bowyer's detriment.

To say that Bowyer is proving that notion wrong is a colossal understatement. Through four races this season, he's second to Jeff Gordon in the championship standings on the strength of a fourth-place finish at Daytona, a second at Las Vegas and a sixth at Atlanta.

Don't believe, though, that Bowyer didn't have his share of nagging doubts before the season began.

"When your boss says this is what you're going to do, it's pretty much what you're going to do," Bowyer said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway before practice for Sunday's Food City 500. "It definitely was nerve-wracking. You just don't ever know. You always know what you've got in the bank with what you had.

"It's hard to let that go, but maybe it was time for a change, and it's really opened my eyes in the beginning part of this season with a completely new team. New optimism, new everything, it's already opened my eyes to what can become of this. We haven't even hit our stride yet, and we've already had three good finishes out of four. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season seeing what this team is made out of."

RCR teammate Jeff Burton thinks predictions that Bowyer would miss the Chase this year fuelled his determination.

"Obviously, Clint is extremely talented, and they've come out of the gate with a point to prove," Burton said. "I think a lot of people thought they were going to be in trouble and weren't going to be able to be successful. I think that motivated them some.

"Shane's done a really nice job of understanding these cars pretty quickly, which is a difficult thing to do. These cars will push you and challenge you. Sometimes a fresh approach is a good idea, too. It's been good for Shane, because he's been able to pick the good and the bad out of each of the other teams. If you watch them during the weekend, they get steadily better all during the weekend, and that's the sign of a good race team."

Bowyer's fast start has gone a long way toward silencing the doubters. The way Bowyer sees it, that's not necessarily a good thing, given his ability to use others' negativity as a motivator.

"It seems like over the past few years that I've been the one that they said couldn't make the Chase and won't make the Chase - and it was again this year," Bowyer said. "That's fuel for the fire, absolutely.

"That makes you go out and work harder and go that extra mile to make sure that you prove them wrong. I love it - please keep doing it."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News