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Clint Bowyer ready to put recent woes behind him

Ford EcoBoost 400 - Practice

Ford EcoBoost 400 - Practice

Getty Images for NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - So many things went wrong for Clint Bowyer early last year that, in a way, it wasn’t surprising he didn’t compete for a championship.

Or win a race.

Bowyer’s woes started in last year’s Daytona 500 when he finished 42nd after blowing an engine. It wouldn’t be until the season’s sixth race that he scored a top-10 result. Even so, a driver who struggles can still earn a Chase for the Sprint Cup bid with a win in the season’s first 26 races, but Bowyer admits he didn’t adjust his thinking.

Those and other issues led to Bowyer finishing a career-worst 19th last season for Michael Waltrip Racing.

“When we blew up at the start of the year at the Daytona 500, I knew that something just didn’t feel right because we’ve always been able to come down here and run pretty good … and leave here with momentum and excitement and confidence,’’ Bowyer said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

“I believe in momentum and feeling and it wasn’t a good feeling. We left the very first race of the season on a down note, and we didn’t even get a chance to race. That was a struggle.’’

Bowyer admits some of the struggles were on him.

“What kind of got me derailed a little bit last year, to be honest with you, I didn’t buy into that ‘win and you’re in’ deal,’’ Bowyer said, referring to the new Chase format. “I thought that my same approach of being consistent and getting yourself in the Chase, and once you get in that Chase being consistent was still going to win you a championship.

“I’m pretty much over that. You need to go win a race and it’s been a long time for me. To me making the Chase isn’t acceptable any more. We’ve got to go out and win a race to be valid in this sport. It’s been too long.’’

So, what will he do different this year?

“I’m going to hold the wheel tighter,’’ he said, smiling.

Bowyer enters this season on a 77-race winless drought. His last Cup victory came in Oct. 2012 at Charlotte.

“We’ve got to get things turned around,’’ Bowyer said. “We’ve got to prove ourselves.’’

And give him something to talk about other than last year. After spending much of his time during last month’s NASCAR media tour discussing his struggles, Bowyer said it impacted him.

“I was not very happy that I showed up there because it bummed me out,’’ Bowyer said. “I left and called (crew chief Brian) Pattie on the way home, ‘Do you realize how bad we sucked last year? I was reminded all day long, thank you very much. Let’s make sure that that doesn’t happen again.’ Once again he assured he wouldn’t. Every time I’ve had him tell me it will be better and I’ll do a better job, he’s been spot on.’’

Already this season is starting on a positive note. Bowyer will compete in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited after making the 25-car field as an alternate.

After driving a tractor this offseason, Bowyer is looking forward to driving something faster.

“It’s been a long off season,’’ Bowyer said. “To get in sync with one another before the big dance is what that race is about.’’

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