- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Clint Bowyer laughed when asked if he'd trade winning a championship for winning at Kansas Speedway, saying championships are at the top of his list. At the track this weekend, he'd like to grab a couple of wins, which would be big steps toward a pair of potential championships.
Bowyer's first crack at Victory Lane will come in Saturday's Kansas Lottery 300 (coverage begins 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN360.com), where he'll be in Richard Childress Racing's No. 2 Nationwide Series entry. With a comfortable 186-point lead over Carl Edwards, the Emporia, Kan., native has a little breathing room.
Edwards is from Columbia, Mo., so Kansas is a track where he always wants to put on a good show as well. In July, Edwards won the Nationwide race at Gateway International Raceway, located just outside of St. Louis in Madison, Ill. Bowyer, though, wants the honors this time around.
"Racing in that area is a big part of our lives and it's important for both of us to be racing at Kansas," Bowyer said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to go back there and be racing against Carl for the championship. It's kind of a Kansas-Missouri border war. I remember going to the [Kansas-Missouri football] game at Arrowhead Stadium last year and this kind of reminds me of that. It's the Kansas boy against the Missouri boy. Hopefully, we'll put it on them."
To have a shot at this year's title, Edwards, the defending series champion, likely needs six strong finishes and some tough runs for Bowyer. Edwards hopes to do his part this weekend in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
"I absolutely love Kansas Speedway," Edwards said. "It's not far from my hometown and I will have several of my family and friends there. I love the mile-and-a-half speedways. They are just awesome. This track is exactly what this team needs. We have six races left and we want to stir it up as much as possible and make every point count. These last races will be exciting."
Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said he feels as if his team has momentum on its side, but that doesn't mean he's expecting a comeback to be easily mounted.
"We know Clint is going to run well in his hometown so we have to be prepared to run well," Blickensderfer said. "Carl is pretty stout on the mile-and-a -half race tracks.
A year ago, Edwards won the championship, but a second-half fade allowed Richard Childress Racing's No. 29 team to take the owners championship with Jeff Burton and Scott Wimmer behind the wheel. While it seemed unfathomable six weeks ago, the series may have split champions again this season.
Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 team has dominated the series all season, but was penalized 150 points when the team was caught cheating during a postrace chassis dyno test at Michigan. And first-year driver Joey Logano hasn't been able to keep up the team's torrid early-season pace, which was set with Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin behind the wheel.
Now Bowyer's No. 2 team finds itself just 65 points behind the No. 20 team, after being 282 points back following Watkins Glen, the race before the 150-point penalty was assessed.
It would be RCR's third straight owners' championship to go along with Kevin Harvick's crown in 2006.
The pursuit of two titles has crew chief Dan Deeringhoff hoping the team is at the top of its game this weekend.
"Clint really wants to go to Kansas and have a good showing and because of that, we want to have a good showing too," Deeringhoff said. "[We try] to do that every weekend, but this weekend might have a little more pressure. But it's still going to be the same amount of work."
Kansas hosted its first races in 2001, and Deeringhoff said the track is changing as it ages.
"The groove is going to move around so I'll try and set our car up for a medium-length run. We'll set the car up so Clint can run high or low," Deeringhoff said. "We'll also have a new tire this year at Kansas so everyone is working on figuring out what the grip levels will be with the tire and making the other adjustments on the car accordingly. That factors in to trying to come up with the balance between aerodynamics and mechanical grip on the car."
The one grip Bowyer is most worried about is the one on the championship -- the one Edwards hopes to wrest away.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Sure, the Nationwide Series title is Clint Bowyer's to lose, but there's something more at stake Saturday at Kansas Speedway. Bowyer wants to win at his home-state track, and beat Missourian -- and his nearest title competitor -- Carl Edwards in the process, writes Mark Ashenfelter.