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.”