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Everything is new again for Clint Bowyer in first season with Stewart-Haas Racing

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This season will be the second reboot for Clint Bowyer in as many years and his enthusiasm for it shined through Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour.

Bowyer bounded onto the stage with a wave.

“Hi everyone, remember me?” Bower asked. “It’s nice to be happy. It’s fun to be happy, believe it or not.”

After a very long season with now-defunct HScott Motorsports, Bowyer will take to the track in the No. 14, driven for the last eight seasons by Tony Stewart.

“A lot of thought really goes into the new season, with a new life, and a new chance, new crack at bat, manufacturer, sponsors, teammates and a new organization,” said Bowyer, who will drive a Ford for the first time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. “What an unbelievable opportunity it is to go out, do what you do, and do it in first-class equipment. That’s all they do, and that’s all they talk about, and that’s all they care about. It’s guys with their heads down working to build cars that win races.”

Four years ago, Bowyer and his team at the time, Michael Waltrip Racing, were caught up in a race manipulation scandal at Richmond International Raceway. Two seasons later, MWR announced it was closing its doors and Bowyer would be without a ride.

Then Bowyer was thrown a really big life-preserver. The native of Emporia, Kansas, was announced as the eventual successor to Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition after last season.

But before the keys were handed to Bowyer, he had to endure a season with HScott Motorsports. An eight-time winner in the Cup Series, Bowyer went from Daytona to Homestead without a win for the fourth straight season. He drove the No. 15 car to one top five (Bristol I) and three tops 10s. He finished a career-worst 27th in the points.

“At the end of the day, relevancy in this sport is everything, and I’ve lost that a little bit,” Bowyer said last week. “Not a little bit. A lot.’’

Now part of a top-tier team for the first time since his six Cup seasons (2006-11) at Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer is not taking the opportunity for granted 33 days before the Daytona 500.

“Hey, let’s face it, you’re not given anything in this series,” Bowyer said. “It’s very challenging and difficult to win races. You’re only as good as the people around you. From (Mike Bugarewicz) my crew chief to my teammates, the sponsors … everything at Stewart-Haas is all-in to win races.”

And if he wins a race, what will it mean to the driver who hasn’t visited a NASCAR victory lane since 2012?

“Will it be special? You’re damn right it will,” Bowyer said. “The last time I won a race … you headed to the next one wanting to win it. Success makes you hungry for more success. It’s been a while. But I need to re-establish myself as a consistent frontrunner. We need to perfect that … and then win races.”

And the races will look different this year after NACAR on Monday announced new race and points formats for all three national series. All races will be broken into three segments, with points awarded to the top 10 drivers in the first two segments before points are awarded to all drivers at the end of the race.

Bowyer said it wasn’t a “sales pitch” before launching into why he’s satisfied with the new layout of the sport.

“I’ve said for years I believe it’s time to look for some sort of opportunity to break these races up,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of long runs, and I know fans aren’t either. I’m really happy that NASCAR looked at that and decided to make a move, a very bold move … I like protecting the team or teams that dominated the season and even dominated the Chase in years past that didn’t come out victorious in the championship because of a blown tire or something out of their control.”

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Podcast: Front Row Motorsports explains how it improves with smaller budget, unique sponsor deals

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Running a Cup Series team is not a cheap endeavor.

One person who knows this is Jerry Freeze, the general manager of Front Row Motorsports.

Owned by Bob Jenkins, the two-car team runs the No. 34 of Michael McDowell and No. 38 of David Ragan and has a technical partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.

Freeze sat down with Nate Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss how FRM works with smaller budgets and its unique business-to-business sponsorship deals through Jenkins’ trucking company, MDS Transport, and restaurant business, Charter Foods.

Freeze calls Love’s Travel Shops, which sponsors half the races on McDowell’s car, a “textbook example” of such a deal. Their partnership began in 2013.

“Bob owns a trucking company with about 300 over the road truck on the road,” Freeze said. “They’ve got to get fuel somewhere. That’s kind of how the Love’s Travel Shop deal started for us.”

Freeze describes it as a “slightly smaller scale” version of the relationship between Team Penske and Shell.

Unlike larger teams, Front Row doesn’t yet have an optical scanning station at its shop like the one cars are inspected with at the track.

“We went into it thinking, ‘We’ll never need to have one of those, NASCAR’s got one, we can go over there whenever we want,'” Freeze said.

The team also relies on the scanner located at Roush Fenway Racing. But it’s a challenge to take cars to Roush, with its shop in Concord, North Carolina, about an hour away from Front Row’s in Statesville.

Buying its own scanner is beginning to look like a “necessary evil” for Freeze, who said he’s heard it would cost $300,000.

“I think if you’re really going to try to optimize the car through each step of what you do, that might be the way to go,” Freeze said.

When it comes to becoming more competitive, Freeze and Jenkins have been encouraged to invest more resources and money into the team by moves NASCAR has made to lower costs, including requiring teams to use engines in multiple races, spec radiators and the controversial common pit guns.

“It put it in a place where, yeah, it’s still pretty tough for Front Row to get to, but it’s not as high as it use to be,” Freeze said of the engine rule. “With spec radiators, we were spending $9,000 for radiator in the past. Now a spec radiator is, I don’t know, a third of that.”

Freeze also addressed the future of one of the team’s three charters, which is leased to TriStar Motorsports this season.

“You can’t do that forever with the way the rules are set up,” Freeze said. “We’ll have to make a decision, either we’ve got to operate (it) ourselves or maybe we sell it to TriStar some day, I don’t know. … Even though we weren’t in a position to run three cars and we’re still not today, it’s kind of nice to have in your pocket just in case something came along that was just phenomenal and we needed one.”

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast. It also is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.

August Cup race at Michigan to be called Consumers Energy 400

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The Aug. 12 Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway will be sponsored by Consumers Energy as part of a multi-year deal, the track announced Thursday.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s largest energy provider, providing natural gas and/or electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents.

The company takes over for Pure Michigan, which sponsored the race from 2011-17.

“We are excited to expand our collaborative relationship with Consumers Energy,” said track president Rick Brenner in a press release. “We strive to work with Michigan-based companies like Consumers Energy who continue to give back to the community. We are looking forward to working together to provide our guests an awesome experience each August for many years to come.”

Consumers Energy will also sponsor the inaugural MIS Charity Dinner on June 9 and the track’s 50 Years of Racing Exhibit in the fan plaza for both of the track’s race weekends.

The MIS Charity Dinner, which benefits the Henry Ford Allegiance Health Foundation Patient Immediate Needs Fund and the MIS Cares Fund, will feature a strolling dinner, dessert and drink stations, live and silent auctions, music, a photo booth and more. The event will also feature a question and answer session with Dale Inman, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood.

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Weekend schedule at Richmond for Cup, Xfinity

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NASCAR heads to its third short-track race of the season this weekend at Richmond Raceway.

Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Richmond last fall and Joey Logano won there last April.

Here is this weekend’s schedule at Richmond:

(All times Eastern)

FRIDAY, APRIL 20

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8 a.m. – 9 p.m. — Cup garage open

8 – 8:45 a.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)

9:40 – 10:25 a.m. — Final Xfinity practice (Fox Sports 1)

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

4:05 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1)

5:10 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

5:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1, MRN)

6:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

7 p.m. — ToyotaCare 250 Xfinity race; 250 laps/187.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

SATURDAY, APRIL 21

1 p.m. — Cup garage opens

4:30 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

5:50 p.m. — Driver introductions

6:30 p.m. — Toyota Owners 400 Cup race; 400 laps/300 miles (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

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It was a question that needed to be asked, although the answer was not a surprise to anyone. What is Clint Bowyer’s favorite type of track?

“Short tracks are obviously my favorite,” Bowyer answered. “I think they’re probably everybody’s favorite. That’s what we grew up doing. That’s probably where we feel most comfortable.”

“I love back-to-back short track races because the drivers don’t have time to forget about who they’re mad at,” Steve Letarte interjected.

But Bowyer’s love of short tracks is not limited to Martinsville, where he snapped his long winless streak earlier this year. He is even more excited about coming to Richmond Raceway this week.

“I feel like Richmond is the perfect-sized race track.”

Bowyer went one step further, suggesting there is a way to add more tracks like Richmond to the schedule.

“I feel like, some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, we need to just use as parking lots and build Richmond in the infield,” Bowyer said.

For more of what Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say about short track racing, watch the video above.