A day after telling reporters that “we have to get in the top 10, this is a top-10 company,’’ Clint Bowyer finished third Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.
It marked his first top-five finish since joining Stewart-Haas Racing before this season and was his first top five since placing fifth in the August 2015 Bristol night race for Michael Waltrip Racing.
“It was a good weekend for us,’’ said Bowyer, who finished sixth in Stage 1 and fourth in Stage 2. “We never showed the speed in practice, but I wasn’t worried about it because I knew the car was really comfortable on the long run and things like that.’’
Bowyer went from sixth to third in overtime, taking advantage of starting on the outside lane, the preferred lane. Bowyer passed Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney in overtime to score the top-three result.
With the finish, Bowyer climbed seven spots in the NASCAR Cup standings to eighth.
Bowyer was the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver to place in the top 10. Kevin Harvick suffered damage at the start of the race when Hamlin was slow to get going and placed 13th. Kurt Busch battled handling issues and finished 24th. Danica Patrick also had her struggles and was scored in 26th.
Bowyer excelled Sunday because his car was so good on the apron in Turns 3 and 4, something that caught him by surprise.
“One thing that I didn’t see today that we’ve seen in years past is just that rim riding … around the outside,’’ he said. “You saw it that first run. Man, I could get down and kind of split the apron in three and four. I could see that I was better than them down there. If I could keep that going throughout the run, you know, I knew that was going to be an advantage when it comes down to these cautions and everything else, the restarts that we saw at the end.
“Everybody else catches on and figures that out. But that was something that was a little bit different from practice sessions and everything else. I mean, I don’t think I left, you know, the fourth and fifth groove in practice the whole weekend. I think the third groove was the lowest I was in practice, even qualifying. Then all of a sudden you start the race, and you’re straddling the apron and running on the bottom and everything else.
“That’s just what is cool about this racetrack. You got to be able to adapt, you got to be able to have the car free enough across the center so that you can throttle through the corners, not too tight, and tight enough that the rear doesn’t come out from underneath you. It’s a constant battle balancing those tires and taking care of those tires, as well.’’