Clint Bowyer was wearing the logo of a breakfast cereal on his uniform following the July 4th weekend Sprint Cup race at Daytona, but he must have felt more like toast.

Getting caught up in one of those "big one" restrictor-plate-bred wrecks had not only destroyed his chances of a good finish -- perhaps a victory -- in the Coke Zero 400, but also blew a nasty old hole in his hopes of making his third consecutive Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The thing about holes, however, is that many can be patched or filled.

Armed with new cars, new crew members and a warehouse full of want-to, Bowyer and the #33 Richard Childress Racing team will be attacking their hole in Sunday's Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway with the kind of gusto that comes with confidence.

"I've always run well at Michigan," said Bowyer, 15th in the Cup standings, 99 points out of twelfth, the final Chase-eligible spot. "I've just had terrible luck there. The engine blew up while I was running second with two laps to go one year, so to finally get a top-ten finish in the spring was good for us."

Bowyer's luck and fortunes have yo-yo'd after his tenth-place finish at Michigan in mid-June. The following week, he posted a second-straight top ten, finishing eighth at Infineon Raceway.

But then came a 20th at New Hampshire and the "big one" at Daytona that resulted in a 29th-place finish and his Chase hopes were taking on big water. He dropped to 16th in the standings, 135 points behind twelfth-place Kasey Kahne with eight races to go before the start of the Chase.

He simply could not afford any more disasters if he was going keep his Chase streak alive. He finished ninth at Chicagoland, slipped a bit the next race when he was 18th at the Brickyard but recovered to finish third at Pocono the following week.

Last week, he headed to Watkins Glen with nerves twitching as he has never been viewed as a terrific road racer in spite of the top-ten at Infineon.

"Road courses were not part of my past," Bowyer said. "I've had to learn a lot. Especially at Watkins Glen. I've struggled with the speed there."

The struggle ended Monday. He hung near the front all day and came home ninth. He was happy and relieved when he left the Glen that afternoon.

"I am just happy to get out of here with a top ten," Bowyer said. "That is what we need to do. We needed a better points day, but as bad as I struggle here, that was a good finish for us."

Bowyer needs four more "good finishes" the next four races, starting with Michigan. His average finish at the wide, 2.0-mile oval is 23.0.

The bad news: That's considerably worse than the average finishes of the three drivers standing between him and 12th place--No. 14 Brian Vickers (16.5), No. 13 Kyle Busch (16.9) and two-time Michigan winner Matt Kenseth (9.6) in 12th.

Bowyer says he thinks part of his team's problems this year stemmed from NASCAR's decision to limit testing. He also was concerned by the cars RCR was putting under him and his team-mates in the early going.

The good news: The team began building new cars, and they are now being put into races. He used a new car at Watkins Glen. Bowyer says that could be big for the next four races.

"I feel like some of these cars that we've built as of late are going to run even better this time around," Bowyer said.

And then, in recent days, RCR announced crew changes for Bowyer's team. Five members of the #07 RCR team of Casey Mears will work on the #33 this week at Michigan. The switch represents an all-out blitz on getting Bowyer into the Chase.

Finally, there is good old momentum working in Bowyer's favor.

On the strength of his third- and ninth-place finishes the past two races, Bowyer has accumulated the fourth-highest point total with 308. Only Watkins Glen-winner Tony Stewart and Pocono-winner Denny Hamlin (329) and Juan Pablo Montoya (320) earned more in the consecutive Monday races.

by Jim Pedley/Sporting News

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