- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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FORT WORTH -- There will be no Nationwide Series title clinching this year at Texas Motor Speedway. But after a tough day at Memphis Motorsports Park, the blazingly fast 1.5-mile track might be just what Clint Bowyer needs to get back on track.
Bowyer saw Carl Edwards -- who clinched the 2007 championship here last season -- cut 80 points off his lead at Memphis, but he still leads by 116 points heading into the final three races.
And Bowyer has finished in the top five in his past two starts at Texas, a trend he's obviously looking to continue in Saturday's O'Reilly Challenge (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN360.com). With just one win on the season -- at the spring race in Bristol -- Bowyer is anxious to win again.
"I've let a couple get away this year. That's the hardest thing for me," Bowyer said. "Yeah, we're leading the points, but I let two races get away, probably three, and we didn't do anything to write home about last weekend in Memphis. So that's frustrating.
"Carl knocked me out of the way and stole one from us at Milwaukee, and I gave two away at Bristol [in August] and Richmond. I want to get another win, maybe two so I can pay my team back for [me] making those mistakes."
Bowyer may feel like he's let a few races get away, but he's having a year to be proud of considering he qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the second consecutive season. He thinks learning the ropes of NASCAR in the Nationwide Series has proven quite beneficial.
Bowyer was discovered by owner Richard Childress while running an ARCA race, but he thinks the Nationwide Series races he ran before moving to Cup was the way to go.
"I think it's a great support series to learn. I think it's a series that developing drivers need to be part of, hands down," Bowyer said of ARCA. "But when companies like RCR, Roush or Gibbs or any of the other predominant teams in NASCAR puts a car in an ARCA race, they're going to win. And, if they don't, whoever was in the seat should be looking for a different line of work because they should have won, led the most laps and embarrassed the field.
"But that's not what ARCA racing is about. When I ran the two ARCA races that I did, it was with an old MB2 car that a guy from Kansas City bought and we went there with four guys who didn't have a clue about racing at that level. I'd been racing asphalt late models. We rented a motor from a guy in Charlotte who we didn't even know and went to Nashville, led laps and turned some heads and got some attention.
"But if you go to an ARCA race and are dominant and a half-a-second faster than the field and on a different straightway, you didn't learn anything. In the Nationwide Series, you can be in the fastest car out there and you're not going to beat the guys with experience right off the bat. If you take a car that isn't as well-funded as some of the bigger teams and run well with it and race door-to-door with somebody, you learned a heck of a lot more than you would have being a half-second faster than the field. "
One of the veterans everyone likely will have to concern themselves with at Texas is Mark Martin, making his final Nationwide Series start of the year in JR Motorsports' No. 5 Chevrolet. Martin has three wins and four top-fives in eight starts at Texas.
"Texas is a great race track. I have always run well there in the Nationwide and Cup cars, and I am really looking forward to getting to that race," Martin said. "What makes Texas a good track for me is the fact that there is a lot of room on that track. ... It's big and fast, and there is plenty of room to pass. Those are the type of tracks that really tend to suit my driving style the most. The tracks where you can make the car go really fast through the corners, you are going to have a really, really fun day."
Jason Leffler, who won his first Nationwide Series pole at Texas in 2000, shares Martin's sentiments about the track. Leffler also has won a pole in the Craftsman Truck Series at TMS.
"Texas is an awesome track -- fast and slick with a wide racing surface. The older the track gets the slicker it gets and the wider the groove gets in the race, allowing you to run pretty much wherever you want to," Leffler said. "It's a lot of fun to race there, especially when you get up there right against the fence.
"Turn 2 is the trouble spot there. The banking holds you really good and then at the last second the banking falls off, so if you aren't careful you can get caught out there and pick up a bad push at the very end, or if you're pushing before that it can snap you loose. It definitely has its own unique characteristics, but it's a great track and the racing is always really good there."
Edwards hopes it's a track where he can find a way to further close the gap on Bowyer in an attempt to defend his championship.
"Last week was a spectacular race for us. Everything went our way at Memphis in the Nationwide Series," Edwards said. "And it's the first time in a long time we've picked up a bunch of points on Clint, so that was definitely a pleasant surprise. We didn't expect to go there and be able to close that many points on him. But I feel like if we do our jobs and we keep running like we're running, you know, then we're putting ourselves in the best position to, like I said, capitalize if Clint or Jimmie [in the Sprint Cup Series] has any trouble."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.