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.”