Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer having fun, but says it ‘sucks’ to finish second in Food City 500

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Clint Bowyer could have used a lot of words to describe finishing second as Jimmie Johnson sped away to win Monday’s Food City 500.

But at first, he kept it simple.

“Sucks,” Bowyer said after earning his first runner-up result since the spring 2013 race at Richmond International Raceway.

Why did the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s best result in four seasons suck?

Because Bowyer was doing some “pretty desperate things” with the brakes and driving line of his No. 14 Chevrolet to catch Johnson.

None of it worked. Bowyer took the checkered flag 1.2 seconds after Johnson.

“You’re watching your lap times and you’re adjusting everything you can possibly adjust, you know, from a track bar adjustment to adjusting your line on the racetrack, just trying every little thing you can possibly do,” Bowyer said. “It was like if I could gain on him one lap and then he’d gain on me the next, and then it just kind of fell by the wayside, kind of realized that, you know, it was a second‑place day.”

It was the third time Bowyer has finished second since his last victory, in the fall 2012 race at Charlotte. It was also Bowyer’s best Bristol result in 23 starts at the short track.

Bowyer’s presence at the front for the final 31-lap sprint came after he was caught speeding during a pit stop on Lap 326. He was one of seven drivers caught speeding Monday. Both he and Matt Kenseth (fourth) were able to finish in the top five.

The No. 14 Ford had an average running spot of 13.62 before pit strategy helped put Bowyer in the position to potentially visit Victory Lane.

“(Crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) made a good call of putting me in a position of one of the first cars on four tires there,” Bowyer said. “I think (Johnson) was the other one, and he won the race, so the right strategy was there. The team effort was there.

“You know, that’s what a weekend is all about. It’s just been this long since I’ve won a race, and here is pretty special. It would have been pretty cool to be over there in Victory Lane.”

While it “sucks” to make a futile attempt to catch Johnson, Bowyer is still having fun eight races into his tenure with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Bowyer already has two top fives (Auto Club), matching his 2015 total from his last season with Michael Waltrip Racing before the organization folded. In his lone season with the now defunct HScott Motorsports last season, Bowyer earned no top fives. But his best non-restrictor plate result was eighth in last spring’s Bristol race.

The Kansas native knows getting close and missing out on a win is part of the territory. But Bowyer admits he’s starting to get a little selfish with his results, which have him eighth in the points standings, the best among Stewart-Haas Racing’s four drivers.

“It’s called racing,” Bowyer said. “Been that way my whole life, since I was about 5 years old. … You struggle and struggle and struggle for a year and a half here, and hell, next thing you know you’re being greedy about second. You know what I mean?

“That’s just the way racers are wired and the way it’s always been. Having a ton of fun and working hard and seeing the results is gratifying for this race team. I mean, we need sponsorship on the side of this car rather than (Haas Automotive) and good runs like this and positive momentum and mojo is a good way to do that.”

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with Stewart-Haas Racing rookie Cole Custer

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Cole Custer has two NASCAR wins in the last three years, but so far the 19-year-old’s racing career is defined by two moments that didn’t see him in victory lane.

When he tackled John Hunter Nemechek last year and a month ago when Austin Dillon got his own point across by slowly forcing Custer into the outside wall under caution at Phoenix.

The latter took place four races into Custer’s rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series. But ask him what his “Welcome to the Xfinity Series” moment was in his first 11 starts dating back to last year and the incident is downplayed as not being that big a deal.

“I guess you could say Phoenix a little bit,” Custer told NBC Sports. “I honestly don’t know. There hasn’t really been a huge moment where anything huge has happened.”

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Two races later, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver achieved the biggest statistical moment of his short Xfinity career. He earned his first top five at Texas Motor Speedway, which surprised Custer given the 1.5-mile track’s recent repave and reconfiguration.

“I didn’t think I was the best at going to new tracks and new surfaces,” he said. “I think since we had such a great car and I adapted to the surface pretty good, we ended up having a fast car from the get go, really, and were able to have a solid day.”

It made him the second rookie to earn a top five this year after William Byron at Phoenix. The result came in the sixth race of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity program.

The following Q&A had been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: Since you’re going to be at Bristol this week, if you were competing in the Cup race what would you choose as your introduction song?

Custer: That’s a tough one. I wish they did it for the Xfinity Series. You definitely have to think about it a lot before you choose. I don’t know, off the top of my head. Maybe something like 21 Pilots. I really like their music. … Maybe “Ride” by 21 Pilots or something.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional you’ve gotten about a sporting event that wasn’t auto racing?

Custer: Probably (Carolina) Panthers’ games back when they were terrible. I was probably a bigger Panther fan when they weren’t good than when they are good, kind of like right now. I would get really mad. It would ruin my whole day when they would lose.

NBC Sports: Why do you think you had stronger emotional reactions when they were horrible than when they were good and going to the Super Bowl.

Custer: I don’t know, its frustrating when people make mistakes. It’s frustrating losing.

NBC Sports: What’s your least favorite part of race day?

Custer: Maybe right before qualifying, you’re pretty nervous just cause you have to lay down a fast lap in a short amount of time. That’s probably the most nerve-wracking.

NBC Sports: What’s the biggest difference for you going from JR Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing?

Custer: They’re both great organizations, have great people. Stewart-Haas has a lot of great people, a lot of great resources. I think they build a lot of fast cars. I think having Tony (Stewart) around and seeing him and how much he helps and cares, that’s pretty awesome and seeing all the racers here. It’s awesome to see.

NBC Sports: What’s been the biggest hurdle for the team in getting this season underway and this program started?

Custer: Pretty much just everything. We had to build a team from nothing. Having to get everything in place and build brand new cars and having to do all this stuff, it’s just not easy for anyone to do and let alone be fast when you go to the race track. I think we did a great job channeling all of it.

NBC Sports: You’ve gotten to race with Kevin Harvick a couple of times this year. What’s been a lesson you’ve learned from him that’s helped you on the track?

Custer: Probably just being patient during the races. He helps me every week in going to new race tracks and giving me advice on what his experiences have been there.

NBC Sports: What’s it been like getting to know your crew chief, Jeff Meendering, through these first few races?

Custer: It’s been great. He has a lot of background and a lot of knowledge. He’s a really smart guy and really level-headed. I think we go well together. He’s given me some really fast cars this year. I just have to learn how to bring things home clean and not making any huge mistakes during the race and I think we’ll have some good finishes. He’s definitely one of the best, though.

NBC Sports: How has your relationship with Tony Stewart grown over the last few years?

Custer: He’s just been awesome. He’s helped me so much in just communicating with my team and giving me advice and he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. You see him on TV and he’s a little bit different than what he actually is. He’s really soft-spoken, a really nice guy and one of the best. It’s been awesome to work with him.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Kevin Harvick will give one fan a shot at $1 million with All-Star Race scheme

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The winner of next month’s Monster Energy All-Star Race might not be the only one who leaves Charlotte Motor Speedway with $1 million.

One fan could jump a few tax brackets if – and only if – Kevin Harvick takes his No. 4 Ford and its money-themed paint scheme to victory lane in the May 20 exhibition race.

Stewart-Haas Racing and sponsor Busch Beer announced its “Busch Bucks” contest, which begins today and runs through May 6.

Any fan who enrolls in the “Busch Bucks” loyalty program before May 6 will automatically be eligible to win the contest. The fan who wins the grand prize will be invited to Charlotte to watch the race and Harvick’s pursuit of the checkered flag.

If Harvick wins the revamped All-Star Race, it would be his second victory in the event after his victory in 2007. The 2014 Cup champion also has three points wins at the 1.5-mile track.

Here’s how you can become eligible for the “Busch Bucks” prize:

  • Register at BuschBucks.com.
  • Purchase eligible Busch products.
  • Collect points by taking a picture of your receipt and uploading it to BuschBucks.com.
  • Redeem your points for Busch prizes ranging in point values. Prizes include everything from hats and t-shirts to coolers and tents.

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NASCAR Stock Market: Who’s up and who’s down from last year

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No Cup driver has had a better turnaround in the last year than Clint Bowyer.

The Stewart-Haas racer is one of five who are 10 or more spots better in the points than they were a year ago. Bowyer, who is ninth in the standings, is 23 spots better than he was at this time last year.

The change is not a surprise. Bowyer was with HScott Motorsports, which ceased operations after last year, and now is with one of the sport’s elite teams.

“There is nothing in this sport at this level that comes easy,’’ Bowyer said earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway. “It doesn’t matter the racetrack or circumstances, it is always hard because there is always the next guy working every bit as hard to accomplish the same goal. That being said, I knew it would be a positive move.’’

Bowyer has two top-10 finishes, which is one shy his total last season. He also has five top-15 finishes in the first seven Cup races of the season.

On the opposite side, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 20th in points, 14 spots worse than he was at this time a year ago. He is coming off a season-best fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt’s challenge, in part, has been coming back after missing the last 18 races of last season because of issues related to a concussion.

“I figured we would get one sooner or later, but it’s nice,’’ he said after the Texas race. “I know our fans are really pulling for us. 

Here’s a look at the drivers who have gained the most spots in the points since this time a year ago and the drivers who have fallen the most in the same time.

MOST POSITIONS GAINED

23 — Clint Bowyer (9th in standings this year)

17 — Kyle Larson (1st)

14 — Ryan Blaney (6th)

12 — Chase Elliott (2nd)

11 — Trevor Bayne (12th)

9 — Chris Buescher (27th)

8 — Martin Truex Jr. (3rd)

6 — Ryan Newman (13th)

6 — Cole Whitt (31st)

5 — Brad Keselowski (4th)

5 — Jamie McMurray (8th)

5 — Michael McDowell (28th)

MOST POSITIONS LOST

14 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20th in standings this year)

11 — Austin Dillon (21st)

10 — Matt Kenseth (22nd)

10 — AJ Allmendinger (25th)

9 — Jimmie Johnson (11th)

8 — Kurt Busch (15th)

8 — Denny Hamlin (16th)

7 — Kevin Harvick (10th)

6 — Kyle Busch (7th)

5 — Paul Menard (26th)

5 — Danica Patrick (29th)

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NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer’s resurrection with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Clint Bowyer has every reason to be smiling.

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.”