Clint Bowyer's NASCAR Nextel Cup title ambitions took something of a nosedive in last weekend's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, after a loose wheel robbed him of a decent finish.

The Kansas ace has slipped to some 181 points adrift of Chase pace-setter Jimmie Johnson in the standings following his 19th-placed finish in Texas, and with only two rounds now remaining that is a considerable margin to make up, particularly with Johnson on such fine form. Bowyer refused, however, to concede defeat until the bitter end.

"I felt a vibration on lap 247 and thought it was a loose right rear wheel," explained the 28-year-old Richard Childress Racing star, who finished 17th in the Cup last year in his rookie campaign, "but it turned out to be a loose left rear wheel. We pitted twice and lost two laps, and there just wasn't enough race left to get track position back. I am disappointed and frustrated for everybody in this Jack Daniel's Chevrolet team; my guys have fought hard all season.

"We are down but not out in the Chase. There is no give-up in this team. We are going to take it a lap at a time and race at a time and keep fighting until the chequered flag falls at Homestead."

Indeed, with 158 points in-hand over nearest pursuer Kyle Busch in the standings, Bowyer's third spot would seem rather more assured, and nevertheless represents an impressive 14-place climb on the position achieved at the end of his maiden season.

"I don't understand why our Achilles heel has been qualifying," added crew chief Gil Martin, after his charge had only lined up 29th out of the 48-car field. "We've raced so well and qualifying was so good for us, but now it's our downside. It worked [in Texas], but we had to gamble too many times for that track position and it's so hard to pass here.

"I think when this happened [the loose wheel], we were seventh or eighth, right up front. Not starting up front has killed us the last three weeks in a row. We've managed to get there, it's just taken us all race to do it."

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