MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — He walked in and because Clint Bowyer does not do anything subtly, he announced his presence with gusto.
“HOW ‘BOUT THAT?!!!!,’’ Bowyer exclaimed Monday evening after ending a 190-race winless streak that stretched back to 2012.
Then sounding like a mix of a train whistle and a hyped concert goer, Bowyer shouted in Martinsville Speedway’s media center: “WOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Asked to grab the microphone in the media center, Bowyer proclaimed: “I DON’T EVEN NEED A DAMN MIC’’ as he held 3-year-old son Cash in his lap. “I’LL BE DAMNED!!’’
When Bowyer is excited HIS WORDS COME OUT THIS WAY. Sometimes THEY COME OUT THIS WAY even when he’s not excited. Monday, the words from the fun-loving Kansas native WERE EVEN LOUDER than when he cheered his beloved Jayhawks basketball team Sunday as they advanced to the Final Four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The only time Bowyer spoke quietly Monday was when a reporter noted how long it had been since he won. Bowyer mouthed the words no (dung).
He knows. He’s endured. He’s questioned himself.
“HELL YES,’’ he said. “YES, IT WAS PRETTY DARK FOR A FEW TIMES.’’
It’s been dark for a few years.
He finished second in the points in 2012 but saw his championship hopes all but end when he was wrecked by Jeff Gordon at Phoenix — payback for a series of events that started with Bowyer’s aggressive move at Martinsville that spring that cost Gordon and Jimmie Johnson a chance for the win.
As Bowyer sat in his wrecked car on pit road at Phoenix, he saw his team scuffle with Gordon’s team in the garage on a video screen. Bowyer sprinted to the garage, running to the back of Gordon’s hauler before he was stopped.
Since that season, Bowyer has had modest success.
He was embroiled in the Michael Waltrip Racing controversy in 2013 at Richmond after his late spin that set in motion of series of events that led to NASCAR penalizing the organization. His ride evaporated after the 2015 season when MWR closed. That left him little option but to drive for HScott Motorsports in 2016 and bide time until replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 14 the following season at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Bowyer’s first year at SHR was marked by inconsistency. He finished runner-up three times but placed 30th or worse six times. Some of the struggles came in the team’s switch of manufacturers.
“Last year we were trying to figure out how to put motors in cars to make it to the race track, and that’s not a lie,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing and the antithesis of Bowyer in how softly he can speak at times. “I mean, it was that bad when we switched over to Ford. It was a lot of things that were a lot harder than we thought they were.
“This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.’’
Stewart-Haas Racing was less than a mile from winning the Daytona 500 with Aric Almirola, which would have given the team five wins in the first six races. Kevin Harvick won three in a row and then came Bowyer’s victory.
For all the talking Bowyer did Monday, most of it came after the snow-delayed race. His radio conversations were muted. The driver known to interrupt himself mid-sentence and forget what he’s just said, was focused on staying in front during the final 114 laps he led and said little during that time.
“I WAS BUSY DAMMIT,’’ Bowyer said. “THAT’S Kyle Busch IN YOUR MIRROR. … THAT’S A HARD ONE TO KEEP IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR.’’
He did just that.
Bowyer also benefitted from the race having only one caution during the final 114 laps. Often at Martinsville, there’s a caution in the last 60-70 laps that alters race strategy, sending some drivers to pit road. The mix of drivers on fresh tires racing through the field while those on older tires attempt to fend off the challenges leads to action, accidents and anger. There was only one incident late in Monday’s race and Bowyer maintained his lead after the restart.
When the checkered flag waved, when Bowyer finally was the first to cross the finish line, he screamed on the radio. Instead of a doing a regular burnout, because this is Bowyer after all, he did perhaps the fastest burnout in the sport’s history. He charged down the backstretch while applying the brakes before throwing the car into a high-speed slide in Turns 3 and 4 and then doing doughnuts.
He then drove to the frontstretch and did more doughnuts. As smoke slowly rose, he exited the car, walked to the fence and the fans, motioned for someone to give him a beer. As he headed back to the car without a drink, he saw Cash running ahead of Bowyer’s wife and young daughter. Cash, his daddy’s son, was in full motion running toward his father. Clint ran toward him. They met and Clint whisked his son up and carried him to the car.
Never had his children seen him win. Until today.
AND IT WAS QUITE A MEMORY FOR ALL.