JOLIET, Ill. — After watching a win slip away in a frustrating finish at Daytona last week, Clint Bowyer finds himself stuck in a big group of marquee drivers scrambling to make the Chase.
Bowyer was in position to win at Daytona International Speedway a week ago, but a caution flag came out just before the last lap and the race went into overtime. Bowyer slipped back into the pack after the restart, spun out and finished 17th.
When he woke up the next day, the frustration hadn't gone away.
"Oh, it carried on for a couple of days," Bowyer said. "I haven't been that upset in a while. I was so frustrated. I hated it for these guys (his crew). They work so hard on these cars and we were so close. I wanted to be able to do that for them."
And do it for his Chase chances.
Instead of getting a nice points boost for a victory, Bowyer now is 14th in the standings heading into Saturday night's race at Chicagoland Speedway. And he's not the only good driver who's concerned.
With eight races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, less than 100 points separate 11th-place driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. from Ryan Newman in 15th. Stuck in between them are Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Bowyer. Only the top 12 drivers after the Sept. 11 race at Richmond are eligible to compete in NASCAR's version of the postseason.
Bowyer and others say it's not too early to start worrying about points.
"Oh, yeah," Bowyer said. "Everybody does. The Chase is on."
Although Earnhardt is 11th in points, he didn't necessarily seem convinced he's got the 11th-best performing team in the sport right now.
"I think that'd be slightly generous," Earnhardt said.
And Earnhardt admitted he was nervous about the upcoming stretch of races.
"I'm nervous about losing points, not making the Chase, just having a bad week," Earnhardt said. "I don't think I'm any more nervous about it than I usually am. Everybody hates to fail."
Eight races is a long time in NASCAR. But with so many other good teams scrambling alongside him to make the Chase, Bowyer said it will be tough to make a major move in the points.
"Eight races seems like a lot, but I'll tell you it's not much," Bowyer said. "As good as the drivers and the teams are in front of us that we're going to have to beat out of that thing, you don't just knock out 100 points, 200 points a race. You're going to have to chisel away at it — maybe 10, maybe 20 (points) at the most a race. So it's going to take time."
Bowyer has benefited from Richard Childress Racing's resurgence this season, though he doesn't have the points to show for it — unlike teammate Kevin Harvick, who is leading the points after winning at Daytona and could be in line for a big weekend at Chicagoland, a place where he has won twice.
"We've got great cars," Bowyer said. "Every time we get a little bit of light shined on us, we get our legs knocked out from underneath of us. It's just frustrating. It's been a very frustrating year. But it's not over, and we're in a good position. We've got to be able to capitalize on these next eight races and get ourselves in the chase. I really feel like our equipment is competitive enough to get it done."
Bowyer is optimistic going into the next eight races. He has a solid track record at the series' next three venues, Chicagoland, Indianapolis and Pocono.
"What do you do? There's nothing you can do about it," Bowyer said. "You've just got to get back up on the horse and make it happen. I feel like Chicago's a good racetrack for me. Looking forward to going to Indy. I'm looking forward to these eight races. This is a challenge, and it's a challenge for all of us, and it's up to us to make it happen."