As schoolgirl-giddy as he was -- like a 10-year-old at a Justin Timberlake concert -- as perma-grin ecstatic to claim that elusive first Nextel Cup victory to kick off the Chase for the Nextel Cup pressure cooker, Clint Bowyer has never relived it.
He hasn't watched it on television. Yeah, he's seen the inevitable highlight here and there, but he's yet to settle into the couch cushions with some Jack to watch his greatest professional triumph flag-to-flag. And has no plans to.
Granted, he's in front of the TV, remote in hand. He's just not watching that. No reason.
"Honestly, in my mind, that's what you're paid to do -- win races," Bowyer said. "That's your job, and when you do [win], absolutely it's gratifying. But I'm more focused on watching the [replays of] races to come and figuring out where you ran last year and what we struggled with, and trying to be better going back.
"Bottom line, that's what's going to win us a championship. It ain't that one race we won."
That victory at New Hampshire International Speedway, though, was critical on levels far deeper than the mere career breakthrough. The residual effects are profound. It instilled desperately needed confidence in the No. 07 team, Bowyer said, and gave his teammates total belief in his ability.
Communication with crew chief Gil Martin has improved. Bowyer senses a greater confidence from his crew chief, which in turn boosts the driver's confidence, as well.
It's important for any driver to get his first win -- it's a big part of your career. Man, you win a race at this level, it's a big deal.
-- Clint Bowyer
"Getting that win, and that pressure off of you, building that confidence in everybody has been a huge part of our 'sudden success,' " Bowyer said. "I knew that's what we needed. Look at Martin Truex.
"He won Dover and has been a threat ever since. There's just something about it. It's not like you try any harder, but your mind-set changes. You know going into that weekend, hey, you can win here because you've done it before.
"It's not like you didn't expect to win or run in the top-5 before, but that's all I look for now. That's all I expect to do."
He nearly won the third race out, too, at his home track in Kansas. He ran second to Greg Biffle, who won in a controversial finish in which he was out of gas at the finish line, and thus unable to maintain pace-car speed. NASCAR said Biffle maintained a reasonable speed, and that's the rule.
"I didn't deserve it," he said. "Bottom line, even if we did win, we didn't deserve to win. We were a second-place car right there and Biffle deserved to win. If the shoe had been on the other foot, I'd have played it exactly the way he did.
"I knew [NASCAR] wouldn't overthrow that. It was such a bizarre deal. I had Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon coming up to me afterwards, congratulating me, and I was like, 'Well, what the heck, what do you mean? Did I win?' I didn't have a clue what was going on, but when you have people that have won as many races and championships as they have telling you you won. ...
"Bottom line, I didn't deserve to win."
Winners are treated differently. They might not act any differently or compete any differently, but they're treated differently. They've been initiated into the fraternity.
"To have that level of respect of those guys, people you respect congratulating you -- Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, my teammates, Tony Stewart -- it not only gives me a different outlook, it gives them a different outlook upon me," Bowyer said. "So that was an important win.
"It's important for any driver to get his first win -- it's a big part of your career. Man, you win a race at this level, it's a big deal. It's hard to do and it was exactly what our team needed. After that win I was so excited. I knew the confidence it would bring to our whole team."
Don't let the swagger fool you, though. The pressure is rough. Bowyer said he's sleeping just fine, but Talladega is irksome. He considers it a triumph having finished a race at NASCAR's wiliest track with fenders for the first time ever.
But that 11th-place finish meant 55 points lost to Gordon in the championship hunt, 40 to Johnson. The Chase is unrelenting, but Bowyer relishes the pressure.
"I kind of like it, to be honest," he said. "It helps you stay honed in. That's a big part of this, knowing what's ahead and staying focused on the task at hand -- which is winning this championship.
"It was so funny to go into this Chase a 12th seed and not knowing what to expect, just hoping you can win a race and be in the top-10, to winning the first race out and putting yourself right in the hunt in the first race. It's amazing what one race will do for you in your mind-set and your whole outlook on the rest of the season."
Bowyer figures two or three more wins are necessary to contend for the title. Gordon and Johnson, he said, are too good too often. Charlotte looms, and Bowyer's best career finish in three starts is 19th. He's never finished on the lead lap.
"My track record isn't the best there, and I know going in I've got to pick up my game," Bowyer said. "We've tested. We've run the car and have a car we think will be better for us there. That's what we're getting better at -- knowing what we show up with [at the track] equipment-wise is the right call.
"It's all part of that new confidence."
How come when Dale Jr. was looking for a new team everyone acted like the only reason a team would want him was because he sells a lot of merchandise, but when Gibbs signed Kyle Busch everyone acted like they just signed the greatest racing talent ever?
Busch is good, but Dale Jr. is just as good, if not better, and has been in inferior equipment throughout his career. It seems like you and Darrell Waltrip are the only voices in NASCAR who believe he is a great driver.
Why can't he get any respect? P.S. The phrase "week in and week out" is ridiculously overused in NASCAR. Please get people to stop saying it.
-- Matt Newton, Louisville, Ky.
It's all part of being Dale Earnhardt's son, Matt. People discredit Junior's talent because they don't feel he had to earn his way to the big time. They think he was handed his ride -- and his fans -- by his father, and didn't have to face the hardships other NASCAR stars faced. That's crap.
Sure, there's no question he jumped right into great equipment in the Busch Series. That No. 3 ACDelco car was stout. But his father didn't just give him that ride. Tony Eury Sr. had to convince Big E that Junior was the man for the job. And that's after Junior spent years toiling in Late Models at Myrtle Beach Speedway, working on his own cars and learning how to race.
Many Junior fans were livid with me a couple weeks back when, in a column, I cited Junior's popularity -- and resulting penchant for selling memorabilia and garnering sponsorship -- over his on-track achievement. They screamed that he's won 17 races and two Busch championships and that he deserves more credit than just moving T-shirts.
As for Busch, he's a top-five talent in his early 20s who uses a race car up. He's a rare find. He deserves the props.
And "week in, week out" makes me cringe, too.
I saw where you said the Busch Series might run other car models in 2008. You called them "pony cars," I think. Like Camaros and Mustangs and stuff. That would be awesome. Is that going to happen?
-- Jarod Center, Falls Church, Va.
Not sure just yet, Jarod, though it seems NASCAR and the manufacturers want it to happen, so you have to figure it probably will. I spoke with NASCAR Busch Series director Joe Balash about it, and he agreed the series needs some distinguishing factors from the Cup side to give it a unique identity.
NASCAR has broached the possibility of using alternative models with the manufacturers, i.e. the cars' appearance, as a possible way to differentiate the Nationwide Series (that'll take some getting used to) from the Sprint Cup Series (so will that) in 2008.
"The current input is positive, but with all projects of this type and the number of [manufacturers] involved it takes a lot of time for the information to be shared with all the decision-makers in each respective company," Balash said.
Kevin Kennedy, a spokesman for Ford, said they're on board.
"Our position is that we would be in favor of it, if it makes sense for NASCAR in terms of where it wants to go with the Busch Series long term," Kennedy said. "We have had discussions with them about ways to differentiate Busch from Cup, and that certainly would be one way. I do think we -- or the other car companies -- would want a major say in how the cars look if they change."
I'm a huge NASCAR fan and have a diecast car I think is worth some money. You seem to be plugged in to the industry, and I thought I'd turn to you for a way to find out who I can ask whether it's worth anything.
-- Bill Sommers, Florence, S.C.
I certainly can't help you with that question, Bill, but indeed I may know some folks who can. Sirius Radio's NASCAR channel recently added a show on Saturday mornings called NASCAR Collector.
The one-hour program airs at 8 a.m., and focuses solely on racing memorabilia. For collectors, and possibly even vendors, it's a place to chat with experts about your collections. It's unprecedented. There's never been this type of open forum for folks to discuss such things.
The weekly panel includes my main man, NASCAR's Hall of Fame historian Buz McKim (the guy knows everything), and Beckett Racing editor Tim Trout, who is widely considered the chief authority on racing collectibles.
NASCAR fans, me included, are big on their diecast collections. I have a porcelain 1:18/scale Jeff Gordon rainbow car that rests on a marble base. I need to call in and see what that bad boy is worth.
Here I was thinking I understood the qualifying process and Dega pops up. Dale Jarrett qualifies ninth (I believe) on Saturday, yet when the field is set he is starting 43rd.
Now, I know that if they have to change anything during impound races they go to the back, but this was well before that even occurred. Can you give me some insight on how this process works? Thanks, Marty, and keep up the good work.
-- Stan, Chesapeake, Va.
I hear you, Stan. It's convoluted, no doubt.
The 43rd spot in the field is always reserved for the most recent past champion that requires it. If the champion does not need that provisional, or the past champion is out of those provisionals as DJ is, then the 43rd and final position is reserved for the eighth-fastest qualifying "star car," or car outside the top-35 in owner points.
This happens every week, but at Talladega folks witnessed it for the first time because Jarrett posted the eighth-fastest time during qualifying.
I love race cars with chrome wheels. In the old days, there where quite a few teams that had them. Then NASCAR, if memory serves, made them illegal because they didn't hold the wheel weights on well enough. Now Michael Watrip Racing cars run them and they look great. What changed?
-- Kevin, Woodbridge, Va.
You're right, Kevin, NASCAR did outlaw chrome wheels because they had a tendency to throw wheel weights. The Waltrip cars aren't running chrome wheels, they're running tan wheels that are coated to look like they're chrome. Anyone who pleases could run these wheels.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.