Clint Bowyer to drive No. 15 Toyota

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Clint Bowyer was in a strange predicament a couple months ago.

The veteran driver already had lined up sponsorship for next season, no easy task in a sluggish economy, but he couldn't seem to work out an agreement to remain with Richard Childress Racing.

So, Bowyer looked elsewhere and took his sponsorship right along with him.

On Friday, Michael Waltrip Racing announced that it had signed Bowyer to a three-year deal to drive the No. 15 Toyota next season. The sponsor, 5-hour ENERGY, will come on board for 24 races beginning with the Daytona 500, leaving the team with a dozen sponsorship dates left to fill.

"I see their performance improving week-in and week-out. I had to work my butt off to make sure I was on top of them," Bowyer said of his new team during a news conference at Kansas Speedway. "I see this as a wonderful opportunity for me to prove myself."

Bowyer's contract with RCR will quietly expire after a moderately successful six-year run that included four wins and three Chase appearances. Bowyer said he took his potential sponsor to Childress a few months ago but could never get an assurance about his status for next season.

"It's a shame. I owe a great deal to Richard," Bowyer said. "I've never been in a situation where I had a sponsor that came to me and said, 'We would like to have you. You're the asset.' So I felt a responsibility to go to an organization where I can build a brand."

That wound up being Michael Waltrip Racing, where Bowyer will join a team, featuring David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr., that has never qualified for the Chase.

"It was the No. 1 thing on our radar screen at the start of this year. We felt we had built our organization to where we felt we could contend for Chase spots," Waltrip said. "Having guys like David and Martin and Clint, we're poised. We're on the brink of that."

News of the deal began leaking out last weekend at Dover, but Bowyer wanted to wait until the Cup series came to Kansas Speedway to make a formal announcement.

The native of Emporia, Kan., considers the 1½-mile trioval to be his home track. Bowyer still holds several records at nearby Lakeside Speedway from his dirt-track days, and the location allowed many of his friends and family to attend the announcement.

Scott Miller, RCR's director of competition since 2003, also will be joining Waltrip's team.

"We now believe we're structured exactly how we want to be," Waltrip said. "We're bringing a guy in Scott Miller aboard who has guided teams to the Chase and competed for championships."

Waltrip's team still has plenty of ground to cover before that happens.

Since expanding to a full-time operation in 200, the team has just two wins, and the closest it has come to qualifying for the Chase was Reutimann's 16th-place finish in 2009.

Reutimann has struggled much of the season, running second at Kentucky but netting one other top-10 finish.

"We're adding cars and sponsors, and a lot of teams haven't been as fortunate," Reutimann said. "It should help on the competition side, and it never hurts to have teammates out there."

Truex has fared slightly better during a wildly inconsistent year, with two top-5s and eight top-10s, including a second-place finish at Bristol in August.

"Clint's going to be a really good addition to Michael Waltrip Racing," Truex said. "It's going to be good to have someone of his caliber and experience join our team."

Bowyer immediately becomes Waltrip's most high-profile driver, though the owner refused to anoint him as such.

Bowyer's departure from RCR should give Childress time to get his grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, seat time over the next few years. Austin is scheduled to make his Cup debut Sunday, and the plan is for him to eventually slide into a full-time ride.

Bowyer promised there will be no hard feelings.

"It's all about the future," he said with a smile. "The future's bright."