Whether a praise to the heavens or a statement of shock – or a combination of both – that’s how Clint Bowyer began his press conference after finishing third in the inaugural Bank of America Roval 400.
Somehow, someway, Bowyer survived the 109-lap race to earn his best result since placing third at Sonoma in June. He also raced his way into the second round of the playoffs.
That was after he entered the elimination race as one of four drivers on the outside looking into the top 12 who would advance. Bowyer began the day 14th on the starting lineup and four points out of the cutoff spot.
Unlike Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones, Bowyer’s chances at a title are still alive.
Since the introduction of the elimination format in 2014, Bowyer’s achievement is the 12th time a driver entered a cutoff race in the bottom four and drove their way into the next round.
It’s the fifth time a driver has advanced to Round 2 after entering the elimination race below the cutoff.
“Our day in particular, we knew we needed an opportunity,” Bowyer said. “You knew some people were going to have trouble. You try to make sure that you’re not one of those people.”
Beginning at 5 a.m. Sunday when his son Cash woke up, Bowyer had plenty of time to think about where there would be opportunities on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 17-turn, 2.28 mile course.
“It wasn’t much sleep the last couple nights,” Bowyer said. “Once you’re up, you start thinking about this gremlin that’s ahead of you today, there wasn’t any more sleeping. I stood there and watched the sun come up thinking about the chicane on the back straightaway, thought about the chicane on the front straightaway, thought about Turn 8, how I was going to get off that. I hit the wall in Turn 8 (oval Turn 1). Just thought about restarts and things like that.”
Bowyer managed to finish third in Stage 1 for eight points and fifth in Stage 2 for six points.
Bowyer then kept his No. 14 Ford from being one of 15 cars that got a piece of the wreck in Turn 1 with six laps to go.
On the final restart, he was sixth.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to compete,” Bowyer said. “Nerve‑racking as hell on our part, but nonetheless, it was a lot of fun, challenge. … But heartburn, that was a heartburn, ended up being a heartburn on a lot of people’s parts.”
But Bowyer’s heartburn was worthwhile as he joins all three of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates in Round 2.
Bowyer’s advancement in the playoffs comes a year after Kyle Busch was the only driver to enter an elimination race below the cutoff line and advance. He did so to advance to the third round.
In 2016, Austin Dillon did it in Round 1 and was followed by Hamlin in Round 2 and then Carl Edwards advanced from Round 3 to the championship race.
In 2015, Kyle Busch did it twice, advancing into Round 2 and 3 from the below the cutoff on his way to winning the title. Kevin Harvick also did it to advance into Round 2.
2014 saw Hamlin race his way into Round 2 and eventually make the championship race. Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski followed the next round and Harvick finished second in the final cutoff race at Phoenix to advance to the championship race, where he claimed his first Cup title.