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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Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.