Clint Bowyer is adamant he “never” thinks about how long it’s been since he won a NASCAR Cup race.
Even if that’s the case, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has clearly pondered what he’ll do if his 159-race winless streak ends tonight at his home track in the Go Bowling 400.
“We would have a large time. I know the hot spots around here,” Bowyer said Friday at Kansas Speedway. “I think probably everybody would have an open invite. I have a sponsor with a hell of a product, a teammate with a hell of a product sponsor, so St. Louis isn’t very far away either. We will be fine.”
Through 10 races this season, Bowyer is more than fine compared to where he was at this point last season.
During his one season with HScott Motorsports, Bowyer was coming off his second top-10 finish of the year. He would only earn one more.
Now, the No. 14 team is ninth in the standings, the best out of SHR’s four teams. Bowyer has two top fives and four top 10s. In addition to finishing second at Bristol, Bowyer has finished every race on the lead lap since a DNF in the Daytona 500.
“Last year sucked,” Bowyer said. “It wasn’t fun for anybody, especially me. The good news is the bus picked us up and we jumped on the fun bus clear back in Daytona. I don’t know how you missed it. It is a big ass bus. … When I walked out of one building and got into the other one it was a fun time, trust me. It was overnight. I woke up one morning as a Stewart-Haas employee. That was a good time.”
Entering the Go Bowling 400, Bowyer has an average finish of 11.8 on the season.
“We are knocking on the door,” Bowyer said. “We aren’t knocking enough, but last week we led some laps and showed potential again. It takes the total package. You have to put it together. It all starts with consistency, running up front on a consistent manner week in and week out. We have a good baseline established and that is with no notes or nothing to work with. No experience with one another. No communication.”
Bowyer’s average finish at Kansas in 17 starts is 17.2. Though he has five top 10s, his last one came in 2013 when he finished fifth in this race.
“It is a clean slate every time I go to the track with (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and the guys on the 14 car,” Bowyer said. “There is no reason to think it won’t be better this week. I know Mike was excited about the car and he knows that this is an important one for me. He knows that I need to run better on these types of race tracks.”
Even though it’s still relatively early, Bowyer has all the confidence he’ll be one of the 16 drivers in the playoffs come September. Part of the confidence comes from Bowyer having led 10 laps last week at Talladega, his first of the season.
“You have to lead laps to win these races,” Bowyer said. “You can’t just be an eighth-place car. You have to get up and lead laps and we need to get a couple of stage wins. We have to have that going into the playoffs. Do I think we are going to make the playoffs? Yes. I am not saying that arrogantly or to be cocky, I just feel like we are a team that is going to be in that one way shape or form. Whether we race our way in or win our way in.”
There’s that word again – win.
What kind of trouble would the Emporia, Kansas, native get in if he won on his home turf?
The kind that might make Mother’s Day a little awkward.
“She wouldn’t be proud of me,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “If that was to happen, I probably wouldn’t be in very good shape for Mother’s Day. We would probably have to postpone that to Monday. It would be huge to win at home and to finally seal the deal after all this time. It would be ultra-special.”
Winless since 2012, Bowyer is now ninth the Cup Series point standings, his highest position since the 2015 Daytona 500.
After seven races with Stewart-Haas Racing following his move from defunct HScott Motorsports, Bowyer has three top 10s and one top five. He’s also the top-ranked driver among all four Stewart-Haas Racing entries.
Watch the video to hear Bowyer’s thoughts on the season so far and their relationships with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who is in his second year on the job with the No. 14 team.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been with someone as dedicated as Mike,” Bowyer said. “He’s the guy you literally have to say, ‘Mike, go home. Go eat a dinner with your family. Take your family out to dinner. Do something, get your mind off this.’ He’ll call you at 9, 10 o’clock at night and he’s still at the shop with his head in the computer.”
CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer can be loud, wild and ready for the next good time, but after a season that felt as arduous as Odysseus’ journey, Bowyer’s voice softens when he states a goal for this season.
“I sure hope you are watching me,’’ Bowyer said as he stood next to his No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. “At the end of the day, relevancy in this sport is everything, and I’ve lost that a little bit. Not a little bit. A lot.’’
Four years after finishing runner-up in the championship, Bowyer could barely finish in the top 20 in races last year for HScott Motorsports, a team no longer competing in NASCAR.
It was a stunning fall for driver who seemed on solid ground after he signed a three-year contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing in May 2014, following back-to-back finishes in the top 10 in points.
Fourteen months later, though, Michael Waltrip Racing announced it would cease operations after the season.
A month after that, Bowyer signed to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, replacing Tony Stewart in 2017. That left Bowyer without a ride for 2016. With few options, Bowyer went to HScott Motorsports and suffered through a season that saw him record three top-20 finishes in the last 19 races.
“Was it the best thing in the world for me?’’ Bowyer said of last season. “Probably not. It probably wasn’t healthy as a matter of fact, but, nonetheless, this deal was worth it. This opportunity was worth whatever you had to go through, whether it was sitting at home or getting into something. It didn’t matter, I signed on for this thing. I want to be in this car because I knew it was my soonest opportunity to be in the best possible situation to win races.’’
But it has been four years since he last won, a span of 149 races.
He was asked Wednesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center if he is any good still.
“That’s a real legitimate question,’’ Bowyer said. “You just don’t know. I think the last time I was in a good car, I was good. I think that I’m a smarter driver than I was three years ago. I think I’m plenty capable of winning races. I love what I see at Stewart-Haas.’’
His team was set up for him. Mike Bugarewicz gained experience last year in his rookie season as a crew chief for Stewart. That should help Bugarewicz in the transition to his new driver. Bowyer and Bugarewicz started talking weekly in the second half of last season, discussing what setups Bowyer liked, track conditions, tires, etc. Anything to learn each other and help their communication this season.
“For me, that driver/crew chief relationship is everything and you’ve got to get that established,’’ Bowyer said.
Bowyer also can lean on some familiar faces at Stewart-Haas Racing. He was a teammate to Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer was at Michael Waltrip Racing when Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers was there. Billy Scott, crew chief for Danica Patrick, was Bowyer’s crew chief, for part of the 2015 season.
About the only person he doesn’t know well at SHR is Kurt Busch.
“We just never really hung out,’’ Bowyer said of the 2004 champion. “He’s the one guy that I really think has more raw talent than about anybody out there. I want to go out and learn as much as I can. I know he can really diagnose what’s going on with the car. The depth he goes in with the debrief is probably a lot higher than I’ve had in the past.’’
That’s just part of the culture at Stewart-Haas Racing that has Bowyer excited.
“They don’t take second as an option,’’ Bowyer said. “They go and work hard and figure out how to go win these races.’’
No longer does he have to worry about finishing 25th (his average finish last year was 23.6).
“With equipment like this, if you’re 25th or something at the end of the day … there’s a reason for it,’’ Bowyer said. “That’s the breath of fresh air. It’s not expected. It’s not going to happen.’’
Told that Stewart sees Bowyer as calmer, the 37-year-old replies that he’s “confident again.
“When 2016 finally came to an end, I was looking at Dale (Earnhardt) Jr and Amy having a good time (at their New Year’s Eve wedding), and I’m like I can’t wait for tomorrow morning,’’ Bowyer said. “Just get all that brushed off, get it behind you and … focus on the task at the hand and using this wonderful opportunity to be good and great again.’’
Tony Stewart and his rookie crew chief Mike Bugarewicz have three top-five finishes in the last four races and are enjoying their team’s success in Stewart’s final season before retiring from Sprint Cup racing.