WELCOME, N.C. -- Richard Childress was beaming with confidence.
"This year is the year to take Jimmie (Johnson) off that throne," Childress said of the driver who's won five consecutive Sprint Cup Series championships.
"We were close last year, but this is the year to do it. And it's going to be RCR, I feel certain."
Childress' prediction is not necessarily a surprise.
All three of Childress' drivers last season -- Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer -- made the Chase for the Cup after all three failed to qualify in 2009.
Harvick ended the year with three wins and finished third in points, only 41 behind Johnson. He is a natural choice to consider fulfilling Childress' prophecy in 2011.
But not the only one.
Clint Bowyer easily had his most productive Cup season in 2010 but the best part of it -- he won two of the 10 Chase races -- was overshadowed by a 150-point NASCAR penalty received after the Chase opener in New Hampshire.
The penalty -- NASCAR found his car chassis did not meet specifications -- knocked him out of title contention.
"We did have a good Chase. Without that penalty I think we would have been in the championship hunt. I mean for four weeks we didn't have a crew chief," Bowyer said this week during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"You think about how good our Chase was and then think about how good it could have been if we went into Dover (the second Chase race) right off the excitement of winning the first race.
"That would have been huge. Instead, it was complete chaos."
While Bowyer may have lost his chance at a championship last season, those around him at Richard Childress Racing say the 31-year-old native of Emporia, Kan., is just coming into his own.
"Without a doubt Clint is a championship-caliber driver," said teammate Jeff Burton. "Clint and Kevin both make me a better race car driver.
"If Clint were on the free market, he would be one of the most desired race car drivers. Period."
Mike Dillon, RCR's director of competition, said Bowyer has made steady progress each season he's been with the organization.
"He was a championship contender this year. He is ready to take another step and he is going to have even more opportunities to win races and championships," Dillon said.
"Clint has a short attention span. But I hope running for championships gives him a long attention span. If it does, it's going to be tough for the competition."
Since joining RCR in 2004, Bowyer has been known for his engaging personality. In the past year, he has become even more comfortable speaking with the media about issues affecting the sport and was widely credited for his handling of the penalty.
"I'm as comfortable in this sport as I have ever been. I feel like I am finally getting to feel like one of the boys," Bowyer said.
"I know to be a bigger name in this sport, I have to go out and win more races. I know that and I have to figure out how to do that."