Ryan: The many reasons why Clint Bowyer’s ninth win felt like the first

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Monday’s command performance at Martinsville Speedway was Clint Bowyer’s ninth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series. The postrace scene made it seem as if it were the first.

The parade of drivers to victory lane to offer hearty congratulations (not just teammates Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola but also Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski).

The exuberant rookie mistake of standing on the roof in exultation (sorry about those R&D Center tape measures, NASCAR!).

The excitable answers that spilled from Bowyer’s mouth in complete paragraphs instead of full sentences.

The setting on the Martinsville frontstretch as dusk approached was normally what is seen with an inaugural winner, never mind a 13-year veteran whose first victory came in the 2007 playoffs opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

This doesn’t discount the emotional significance of Bowyer’s victory. This is the best feel-good story since the Daytona 500.

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The poignant images of his dash to scoop up 3-year-old Cash and share the joy of his first victory in more than five years will be what lingers and resonates from the sixth race of a season that could use more such special moments.

But the collective merriment felt as much about relief as celebration (though undoubtedly there were those who offered congratulations contingent on the hopes of securing an invite to Bowyer’s all-night rager).

Bowyer said as much in admitting he spent some time worrying while leading 215 of the final 216 laps on the 0.526-mile oval.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Bowyer said when asked about averting a pit stop under green that could have left him at a disadvantage because of fuel mileage. “I was wondering how we was going to lose this race, and that’s going to be how we’re going to lose it.

“But man, I don’t know why it just felt right. Today was going to be our day.”

This officially is Year 2 of the Clint Bowyer Reclamation Project, but it feels much longer than that because rarely have things gone swimmingly since the infamous night in Richmond when a curious flick of the steering wheel sent NASCAR into a scandal-tinged tailspin that seemed to ensnare Bowyer, too.

His last two seasons at Michael Waltrip Racing were mostly miserable as the team sank slowly into oblivion.

There was a rescue line tossed by Stewart-Haas Racing late in 2015, but it meant 2016 was a bridge year spent in 25th-place obscurity of a backmarker team that since has folded.

And when he finally arrived in the No. 14 Ford last year, it didn’t immediately mesh while attempting to fill the enormous void left by three-time champion and car owner Tony Stewart.

Bowyer admitted that he and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz “fought a lot” in their first season together (there was the notable video of the driver stomping away after arguing with Bugarewicz at Talladega last October).

“All you guys was hard on us last year,” Bowyer said to the postrace news media. “We learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself.”

So much that the guy who never lost a party went so far as to embrace the power of positive thinking, hanging victory lane photos and championship plaques from days gone by on the wall of his office.

Whatever it took to spark the turnaround.

Bowyer, 38, might be in a good place, but the Cup Series hasn’t taken kindly lately to middle-aged veterans on 190-race breaks between wins. Even those who still win regularly (hello, Matt Kenseth) are getting squeezed out by a numbers game that favors the cheaper and less experienced option.

It’s fair to wonder how much longer the leash would be for Bowyer if he hadn’t won Monday, particularly if the team stumbled and gave away another win.

Now all that weight has vanished and been replaced by the security of being locked into the playoffs six months early.

Nearly two hours after the race, the festivities were just getting started.

“Hell no,” he cracked when asked if he had gotten the carousing out of his system. “It ain’t even dark yet.

Seems fairly bright, actually. Like the dawn of a new beginning.


The luxury of showcasing Bowyer’s effervescent personality was the saving grace of a 500-lap race that simply was uneventful for Martinsville. History shows that, but so did the Camping World Truck Series race that immediately preceded the main event. It wasn’t as if the track was less than primed for being conducive to action.

There were many theories supplied – tire combinations, data sharing, reduced aggression – about why the beating and banging of fenders were largely absent.

With far more at stake when the Cup Series returns Oct. 28 in the thick of the playoffs, let’s hope that Martinsville’s magic does, too.


Brad Keselowski caught grief last year when he chose the outside lane for a restart on which he lost the lead and the shot at a 2017 sweep of Martinsville.

But the cerebral Team Penske driver seems to have been ahead of the curve on a growing trend that would have seemed unthinkable prior to the advent of double-file restarts: The outside seems to be the preferred lane at Martinsville.

Aside from the start (when pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. held first from the inside) and Lap 143 (when Ryan Blaney started on the inside and lost the lead to Denny Hamlin), the leader took the outside and retained first on every restart Monday.

As noted by Motorsports Analytics founder David Smith, the outside line has become the place to be at Martinsville since 2014 by roughly a 20 percent advantage.


The decision to postpone Sunday’s race at 7 a.m. wasn’t received well – understandable because it meant thousands of fans likely wouldn’t be able to return Monday (and also wouldn’t be getting ticket refunds from the track). The reasoning for the postponement – that the conditions around track property precluded a safe ingress and egress – also was sound.

The head-scratching part of the virtual no-win decision was found on social media.

As the snow began to lighten late Saturday night, NASCAR Twitter lit up with images of the track being cleared and some upbeat photos and video by NASCAR officials and drivers that fed optimism (without qualification) of a Sunday race.

When the race was delayed the next morning, it came so out of the blue that some drivers were about to begin the drive north minutes before the news broke.

If you were a fan deciding on travel to the track and gauging off Saturday late night’s dispatches, there wasn’t much evidence to the contrary that it seemed right to leave early Sunday morning.

Seeing Martinsville blanketed in snow was delightfully fun to witness. But the next time there’s such a threat of inclement weather, it might be wise to temper that enthusiasm with at least some warning the green flag might be in doubt (instead of inadvertently suggesting the opposite).


The only flicker of a potential feud was snuffed quickly when Denny Hamlin quickly put the ruination of his winning bid behind him.

Scuffles have been ignited by far less than the game of brake-check chicken that Hamlin and Kevin Harvick played, resulting in major damage to the No. 11 Toyota that led 111 laps.

There probably was a point during the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s career when there might have been a reprise of his September 2010 showdown at Dover International Speedway with Harvick, who was a willing instigator in both instances.

But that time has passed, and Hamlin’s level-headed reaction, coupled with a longtime friendship with Harvick, decreases the likelihood of any lasting effects from the dustup Monday.

eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.