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Clint Bowyer looks to pick up in 2019 where he left off in 2018

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Could this be Clint Bowyer’s year in more ways than one?

The Emporia, Kansas, native is already among several oddsmakers’ picks as one of the top favorites in the February 17 Daytona 500.

In addition, Bowyer is coming off his best season – he finished 12th in 2018 – since he was runner-up in the NASCAR Cup standings in 2012 and seventh in 2013.

Most important, Bowyer reached victory lane twice last season (Martinsville 1, Michigan 1), his first wins since he took the checkered flag three times in 2012. He also had nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. He also led a career-high 490 laps.

Yes, things have really come together of late for the driver of the Stewart Haas Racing No. 14 Ford Mustang. Now, as he enters his third season with SHR, Bowyer (who turns 40 in May) could be in the best place in his career in a long time.

And he equally could be in the best place to win the Daytona 500 for the first time in his career. To date, his best showing in The Great American Race has been fourth (2009 and 2010).

Bowyer was all smiles after last week’s NASCAR open test in Las Vegas.

I know there is a lot going on rules-wise in 2019, but that’s for later,” said Bowyer, who crossed the finish line of the 2007 Daytona 500 with his car upside down and on fire. “Let me tell you, the Daytona 500 is still going to be the Daytona 500. That’s still the ‘Granddaddy of Them All’ and the race everyone wants to win. You are still going to see the same wild racing and the same intensity. That’s going to be must-see television, for sure.”

Much of the upgrade in Bowyer’s performance the last two seasons has come from crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. After directing Tony Stewart in his final NASCAR Cup season, Bugarewicz took on crew chief duties for Stewart’s replacement in the No. 14, Bowyer.

“We improved a lot last year and plan to keep that going this year,” Bowyer said. “I know Mike (Bugarewicz) and everyone at SHR, plus the Roush-Yates guys, have worked really hard in the offseason to keep us going. That hard work will pay off.”

Now as they enter their third season together, Bowyer and Bugarewicz have priorities in mind: To do well first in the 75-lap Advanced Auto Parts Clash on Feb. 10 (Bowyer’s first appearance in The Clash since 2016), and then the 500.

“We’re glad to be back in The Clash where we belong,” Bowyer said. “That’s going to be the first time we race against each other and gets us a jump on learning where our stuff is at before we race again Thursday in the qualifying races.”

Once Daytona is over, Bowyer is looking ahead to how NASCAR’s new aerodynamic and engine rules package will play out.

Nearly half – 17 of the season’s 36 races – will have the combination of a smaller tapered spacer to reduce horsepower from 750 to 550, as well as aero ducts designed to bring about tighter racing on speedways one-mile and longer in length.

Five additional races will be run with the smaller spacer but without the air ducts.

“This is a drastic rule change,” Bowyer said. “The face of our sport is going to be different.”

Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz and Clint Bowyer have become a formidable pairing, earning two wins last season, Bowyer’s first wins since 2012. (Getty Images)

Along with 20 other drivers, Bowyer tested the new package last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Time will tell what opinions are made, and certainly I’ll form my opinion when that time comes,” he said. “Testing is one thing. When you get to race weekend with 40 cars, it’s a whole different story. Right now, I’m focused on Daytona.”

Bowyer not only likes what he sees from looking at his new Mustang, he also likes its potential for Daytona. Because it replaces the Fusion, all Ford drivers – including SHR teammates Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez, as well as Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and defending Cup champion Joey Logano – will all be on the same page for at least the first few races of 2019.

“I have said for years that we should be running the Mustang in the Cup Series, and this year I get my wish,” said Bowyer, who finished 15th in last year’s Daytona 500. “I’m a car guy and there isn’t anything much cooler than a good-looking Mustang.

“I think the fans are going to be pretty excited to see my Mustang out on the track. Ford Performance is top notch and I know they’ve put a lot of thought behind it and I’d love nothing better than to drive a Mustang to victory lane in the Daytona 500.”

Given the way things have been going – and how he hopes to keep them going in the same direction in 2019 – Bowyer may very well get his wish granted.

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Austin Hill wins Truck Series opener at Daytona in overtime finish

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Austin Hill won Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona in an overtime finish, claiming his first career Truck Series win.

The win comes in Hill’s 52nd series start and his first with Hattori Racing Enterprises. Hill, a former member of the NASCAR Next driver program, took over for defending champion Brett Moffitt in the No. 16 Toyota.

Hill, 24, beat Grant Enfinger, Ross Chastain, Spencer Boyd and Matt Crafton in the second attempt at an overtime finish.

Hill, who is from Winston, Georgia, led 39 laps and survived a race that saw 11 cautions and 26 of 32 trucks involved in accidents.

“Man, this truck was fast,” Hill told Fox Sports 1. “I knew we had a truck that could compete. Got a little scared there at the end. I thought (Enfinger) was going to get me, he got a big run. We were able to protect it. I can’t believe my first win came at Daytona. It’s so surreal, I can’t wait to party with these guys.”

Hill’s win is the third in a row for Hattori after Moffitt won the last two races of 2018.

The overtime period was created by a wreck with two laps left in the scheduled 100-lap distance that involved 10 trucks and nearly every remaining frontrunner. The final restart was setup by a two-car incident on the first overtime attempt.

Only nine of the field’s 32 trucks took the final green flag.

“It was a crazy night … carnage everywhere,” Enfinger said. “We tore up a lot of crap tonight.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Johnny Sauter

Click here for the race results.

Click here for the point standings.

NOTABLE: Billy Rock, the jackman on the No. 28 of Bryan Dauzat, was awake and alert after he was hit on pit road early in the race by Dauzat, who had lost his brakes. Rock was transported to a local hospital … Angela Ruch, the niece of Derrike Cope, placed eighth in NEMCO Motorsports No. 8 truck. She is just the second woman to earn a top 10 in the Truck Series. Jennifer Jo Cobb placed sixth at Daytona in 2011.

NEXT: Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 4:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 23 on Fox Sports 1

Christian Eckes wins Truck Series pole at Daytona

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Christian Eckes won the pole for tonight’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona.

Driving the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Eckes posted a top speed of 182.604 mph.

It is the first career pole for 18-year-old Eckes in his fifth career start.

“I felt way more confident in our car in the draft yesterday,” Eckes told Fox Sports 1. “I really wasn’t sure where we would qualify but here we are on the pole.”

He will be joined on the front row by David Gilliland (182.556 mph).

The top five is completed by Todd Gilliland (181.686), Harrison Burton (181.357) and Grant Enfinger (181.349).

Burton will start from the rear after an engine change was made on his No. 18 Toyota on Thursday.

The race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Meet the ‘Gen 7 for NASCAR’ that could include shorter races and capped costs

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Are shorter races better? That’s a discussion taking place in NASCAR, along with the length of the season and other key topics.

“We have to keep (fans) engaged,” car owner Jack Roush said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter.  That could be cost savings all the way around. Probably need to get shorter. 

“People say we need to race fewer times. I’m not sure that’s true. I used to tell (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I’d be there for him. I don’t know if I’d say that today.”

Already this week, Kevin Harvick has advocated eliminating the Clash, and Denny Hamlin has noted one of the most popular events in the Olympics is the 100-meter dash instead of the marathon, a hint to shorter races

These comments have been made as the sport looks to cut costs for teams and energize fans who can become weary over a 38-race season that goes from February to November. NASCAR President Steve Phelps said last year that various ideas would be considered for the 2020 schedule and beyond. 

Car owner Roger Penske, whose organization is coming off Joey Logano’s Cup championship season, likens the sport’s look at race lengths to its focus on the next car, which is targeted to debut in 2021.

“I think we’re really talking about Gen 7 for NASCAR,” Penske said, using the term for the next car. “It’s not just the car or the engine. I think it’s the show, it’s the length of the races, it’s where we’re going to run, are we going to run more at night, short tracks. Let’s call it Gen 7 for NASCAR, not just the car.”

A shorter season could limit how many weekends NASCAR goes head-to-head against the NFL in the fall. Shorter races could provide the opportunity for midweek races. The belief from those advocating shorter races is that it would create a better show for fans.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us really in the sport,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “You know, there’s times that you struggle, and I think we have struggled some, but I honestly think (NASCAR Chairman) Jim France is on board and after it.  I think we, having constant meetings with everybody has kind of put everything on the table. 

“We’ve got a great fan base, but I think everything is really out there, scheduling, everything that you’re talking about, cost savings, everything is on the table. And so sometimes when you go through a tough time, those wind up being the best times because it causes you to really think your way through things.”

Just as important to teams are the costs, which NASCAR continues to look to cut. There’s also been talk of some type of spending limitation for teams.

“You’re going to see other things happen with the cars, engine packages, that’s going to reduce the cost,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “So NASCAR is really on it. When you look at it, we talk about a spending cap. I don’t know how you regulate that with all we have going on. I mean, everything is on the table.”

Bob Jenkins, car owner for Front Row Motorsports, said cost containment can make an impact for his three-car organization.

“The ultimate goal has always got to be how can we do more with less with any team,” he said. “I think some of the larger teams have felt the financial pinch maybe more so than we have. When you’re in a constant evolution mode, it’s hard for us to keep up. We can make suspension changes a few times a year. Like Roger said, we can’t change cars every week.

“In previous years, we were always a generation or two behind and it shows on our performance. I think now when they come with these common parts that are produced by a third-party manufacturer that can’t be tweaked or re-engineered it only helps a team like us.”

Menard, McMurray, Stenhouse fastest in second Cup practice at Daytona

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Paul Menard (200.758 mph) was fastest in Friday’s second Cup practice session at Daytona International Speedway.

Jamie McMurray in his Chevrolet Camaro was second-fastest (200.696 mph) and the only driver not in a Ford in the first 13 positions.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (200.664) was third-fastest, followed by Ryan Newman (200.638) and Clint Bowyer (200.588).

Sixth through 10th were Aric Almirola (200.571), Daniel Suarez (200.535), defending Cup champion Joey Logano (200.450), Ryan Blaney (200.428) and Brad Keselowski (200.428).

Only 29 of the 40 cars entered in Sunday’s Daytona 500 took part in the second practice. There is one final practice scheduled for Saturday.

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

In the first practice session earlier in the afternoon, Kyle Busch led a Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut.

Busch paced the 40-car field with a top speed of 200.285 mph, followed by JGR teammates Martin Truex Jr. (200.200) in second, Erik Jones in fourth (200.156) and Denny Hamlin was seventh-fastest (200.044). Ryan Preece was third-fastest in a Chevrolet at 200.169 mph, while Ryan Newman rounded out the top five at 200.093 mph.

Click here for the full first practice speed chart.

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