Clint Bowyer had a solid season as he qualified for the Chase For The Sprint Cup in the very last race of the regular season, won two races and finished 10th in the standings.

So the Richard Childress Racing driver will look back on 2010 with a feeling of accomplishment but still a little bit of a sour taste.

A 150-point penalty for a New Hampshire race-winning car that NASCAR said did not meet its specifications still stung Bowyer as he reflected on the season, on in which he would have finished fifth instead of 10th in the standings if not for the penalty.

“The downer about it is I wouldn’t be talking for another 20 minutes or so if it wasn’t for that penalty,” Bowyer said minutes after giving his speech at this month’s awards ceremony. “I still to this day don’t agree with the penalty as far as the infraction.

“But it is what it is. I don’t know what else to say about it. Life goes on. It’s going to go on for us.”

But all in all, it was a good year for Bowyer and his Shane Wilson-led team. A year after he missed the Chase and finished 15th in the standings, Bowyer ran as a Chase contender the entire season only to have some bad luck that put him on the Chase bubble.

He made the Chase thanks to three top-seven finishes in the final three regular-season races.

He led 177 laps in winning at Loudon to open the Chase before the penalty.

All in all, he had seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.

Season Highlight: Bowyer’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October was certainly the highlight. Not only did he lead 19 laps and was just inches ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick when the caution came out on the final lap, he won a race with a car that was deemed legal. To Bowyer and his team, it was validation to the public that the team can win legitimately.

“We went on and won at Talladega and probably renewed my excitement level,” Bowyer said. “I was pretty down and bored and over [the penalty] – I was so over the season and couldn’t wait for it to get over,” Bowyer said. “It was so frustrating for me because I was so looking forward to being a big part of the Chase.

“I really felt like if we could get in the Chase, we had never finished outside the top five. And in my opinion, we still haven’t.”

Low Point: Receiving the 150-point penalty for the car – a penalty issued three days after the race because the infraction was not found until the measurements were taken at the NASCAR research and development center – was a kick in the stomach for Bowyer. Losing the appeal was another kick. And then having the penalty slightly modified – Wilson’s suspension was reduced from six weeks to four weeks – in the final appeal was a little bit of another kick, but by then Bowyer was resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to get the ruling overturned.

Defining Moment: A fourth-place finish at Bristol might have been bigger than either of his wins. At least at the time it was. It turned a perilously close 35-point cushion to make the Chase with three races left in the regular season to a 100-point cushion with two races remaining. Beating nearly all of his Chase competitors at that race solidified his position in making the 10-race playoff.

Key Stat: 88 – the number of races Bowyer went without a victory before he won at New Hampshire.

Outlook: Bowyer will be considered a championship contender because of his ability to run well at all types of tracks and the fact that had he not had the 150-point penalty, he would have finished fifth. While maybe not a favorite, no one will count him out of the title hunt if he makes the Chase.