Deep into the celebration that accompanied his most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series triumph, Clint Bowyer noticed that something was amiss. The affable seventh-year driver for Michael Waltrip Racing had just made an unconventional walk to Victory Lane after burning off the last bit of fuel in his No. 15 Toyota, but now there was a new issue.
"There was a guy, I'll never forget it, he was right down to my left -- red hat, red shirt, and he was in every Victory Lane picture. He's doing the number one, he'd switch hats and finally I said, 'who is this guy?' " Bowyer explained Tuesday during a fan question and answer session at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
After the interloper -- who said he had permission from team owner Michael Waltrip to join the party at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- was found out to be a fraud, he was eventually escorted from the scene, but not before getting into a few more photos. "So he was in most of our team pictures," Bowyer said. "Mysterious man."
The Charlotte gate-crasher isn't the only one getting the "who is this guy?" treatment after Bowyer's third victory of the year catapulted him back into the thick of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title race. It also couldn't come at a better time for Bowyer, who hopes to build on the best season of his career as the Chase postseason hits his home state for the Hollywood Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Kansas Speedway.
Bowyer had missed the Chase in two of the previous three seasons when he joined MWR -- a team that had never made NASCAR's playoffs -- to start the 2012 campaign. The pairing has exceeded expectations and then some, crashing the Chase party with three wins and a fourth-place position in the standings, 28 points behind leader Brad Keselowski with five races left in the season.
As momentous as Saturday's victory was for Bowyer in the backyard of most NASCAR teams, a Kansas win would rate just as highly for the Sunflower State native.
"Coming off of the win obviously rolling into your hometown is a lot of fun," Bowyer said. "A lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, everything that comes off of a win, but to be able to do it rolling into home at Kansas is very special."
Bowyer and the rest of the Sprint Cup field should benefit from extra track time on the repaved 1.5-mile track, which replaced its surface and reconfigured its banking after the April 22 STP 400. Teams were scheduled to test the new asphalt Wednesday and Thursday before Friday's practice and qualifying sessions.
Despite that wrinkle, expect the laid-back Bowyer to roll with whatever extra challenge Kansas throws his way. It's also safe to expect a bigger party with more unexpected guests should a popular home-state win unfold.
"It would be big. I'd probably just invite the whole grandstand to come down and be in Victory Lane," Bowyer said. "I mean, one wasn't enough in Charlotte. We need everybody."