CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Always popular among peers, Clint Bowyer over the past two seasons has slowly become one of NASCAR's new stars.
Part of his ascent is due to the atmosphere at Michael Waltrip Racing, the team he joined before the 2012 season. "I've been able to kind of come into my own and be my own self a little bit more since going to (Waltrip)," Bowyer said.
But no amount of witty one-liners or sharp comebacks in TV commercials can keep the spotlight on a driver. There must be on-track results, and Bowyer has them since moving after six Sprint Cup seasons with Richard Childress Racing.
Though Bowyer made the Chase for the Championship three times with Childress, his first season with Waltrip was his breakout year. Bowyer won three races and finished second in points, both career bests.
Tat really is what has made Bowyer and his larger-than-life personality more noticeable in NASCAR.
"More importantly, probably just running better. I think you just see more of me," he said. "I really, truly believe that's what it is. With running better, you see more appearances."
Bowyer hopes for his 2013 breakout performance tonight at Richmond International Raceway, where he won in September and has a strong record. Bowyer has eight top-10 finishes in 14 starts at the 0.75-mile oval. He is eighth in points this year, with four top-10 finishes but only one lap led.
"Once you win at a racetrack, every time you go back there after that, there's always something you can carry in, and that's confidence," Bowyer said. "We had a solid run, a top-five run at Kansas at home (last weekend), and a little extra boost of confidence and momentum rolling into a track that's really good for me."
Sprint Cup qualifying: Matt Kenseth didn't wait long to get his pole award back.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, stripped of his pole award at Kansas last weekend as part of a raft of penalties NASCAR levied this week, set a track record Friday with a lap at 130.334 mph at Richmond to take the pole for tonight's Toyota Owners 400.
Kenseth edged Gibbs teammate Brian Vickers by 0.005 seconds for his 10th pole in 481 starts. Vickers, who had held the qualifying record at 129.983, is filling in for injured Denny Hamlin.
In what has been a hard week for the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, the results were welcome. Kyle Busch, the team's third driver, qualified eighth.
"When you only win nine poles in 14 years, you're pretty darned fired up for all of them," Kenseth said. "One of our goals for this weekend was to come here, sit on the pole and kind of quiet down at least part of the noise."
Zephyrhills' David Reutimann (129.112) qualified 22nd. Tampa's Aric Almirola (128.351) lines up 34th.
Singer booted: Charlotte Motor Speedway removed country singer Billy Currington as the prerace act for next month's All-Star race. Currington was charged Thursday with making terroristic threats and abuse of an elderly person, both felonies. He was released from a Georgia jail after posting a $27,700 bond.