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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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch back to No. 1, Kurt Busch to No. 3

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When it comes to this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, all we can say is, “Oh brother” … as in siblings Kyle and Kurt Busch.

Younger brother Kyle once again regained the top spot in this week’s rankings, knocking Joey Logano from the No. 1 perch after Logano held it the last two weeks.

And after not being ranked in the top 10 last week, older bro Kurt rockets up the rankings to No. 3 by virtue of his come-from-behind win last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Also making a big move is Erik Jones, who goes from unranked last week to No. 4 this week. By contrast, six drivers from last week’s rankings dropped out of this week’s tabulations.

Here’s how this week’s rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Tenacious performance at Kentucky puts him back atop the rankings. Last week: 2nd.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Car wasn’t wide enough to block all those behind him on the final restart. In his last three races on a 1.5-mile speedway, he’s finished seventh (Kentucky), third (Chicagoland) and second (Charlotte). Last week: 1st.

3. Kurt Busch (32 points): What a difference a win makes. But Busch’s ranking isn’t a total surprise. He’s been knocking at the door all season. Had he not pitted at Daytona two weeks ago, he may be riding a two-race win streak now. Last week: Unranked.

4. Erik Jones (23 points): Returns to playoff territory and seems to have momentum for a finishing kick. Third-place finish was his fourth top 10 in the last five races on a 1.5-mile speedway. That includes a third at Kansas and Kentucky and a fourth at Texas. Last week: Unranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (22 points): His pit crew has been called for an uncontrolled tire violation five times this year, tying the series high. That’s unacceptable. Despite the penalty at Kentucky, Hamlin finished fifth. Last week: 7th.

6. Kyle Larson (20 points): Top 10s in three of last four races – including a second (Chicagoland) and fourth (Kentucky) – have solidified his standing for the playoffs. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Newman (16 points): Is in full grind-it-out mode for solid finishes exactly when he needs them. Finished ninth at Kentucky after starting at the rear because his car failed inspection. While he fell out of a playoff spot, he’s only two points away after scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. Last week: 8th.

8. Cole Custer (9 points): Kentucky victory in the Xfinity Series was his series-high fifth win of the year. Last week: Unranked.

9. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Ends four-race tailspin but still needs to work on amassing stage points. Last week: Unranked.

10. Chris Buescher (5 points): If all the tracks on the circuit were 1.5-milers, he’d likely be ranked higher. All four of his top 10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks. He’s been sixth at Charlotte, ninth  at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas and Kentucky. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Christopher Bell (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (4 points), Tyler Ankrum (3 points).

Clint Bowyer looking for some of his old magic at the ‘Magic Mile’

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While the next race on the NASCAR Cup schedule is Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer is already thinking four months and 17 races ahead to mid-November’s season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Winning a championship is the reason we are in this sport,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said in his weekly media release. “It’s why everyone puts in these long hours during a long season.

Winning a championship is what we dreamed about ever since we started racing. It was a great feeling to win the Xfinity title in 2008, and I can’t imagine the feeling of satisfaction you would get by winning a Cup title.”

But Bowyer also knows all too well that to make it to the four-driver, winner-take-all championship-deciding race in South Florida, he has a bit of work to firm up his position just to make the playoffs, which begin Sept. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Clint Bowyer hopes to be smiling and partying after winning what would be his third career triumph this Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing.

Heading to New England, Bowyer is tied for 14th place with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. They’re eight points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones, who holds the final playoff spot. Ryan Newman, the first driver outside a playoff spot, is 10 points behind Bowyer and Johnson. Daniel Suarez is 12 points behind the duo.

A win would lock Bowyer into the playoffs. That’s why Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) is so important to the Kansas native.

Of Bowyer’s 10 career Cup wins, two have been at New Hampshire’s “Magic Mile.” He won there in 2007 and 2010. He also has four top fives and nine top 10s in 25 career starts at that track.

I love New Hampshire,” Bowyer said. “That place just fits my driving style.

We don’t get up to that part of the country a lot, so it’s good to see the race fans there. They have so many tracks and they love their racing, from Modified to Late Models to our stuff. The support races they put on at New Hampshire are some of the best of the year. Man, do they like to party there.”

Bowyer will be partying himself if he can win Sunday’s race. Still, it’s not been a bad season for Bowyer to date, either. He has five top fives and four other top-10 finishes.

Bowyer is coming off a sixth-place finish at Kentucky last Saturday, a marked improvement from what he suffered through in three of the four previous races with finishes of 35th (Michigan), 37th (Chicagoland) and 34th (Daytona).

We dug ourselves a hole in June and we are trying to climb out of it,” Bowyer said. “We aren’t a 16th-place team. I know we are better than that.”

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NASCAR America: Dale Jarrett on Dale Jr. Download, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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They have the same first name, they have famous racing fathers and they’re both on today’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download on NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to this week’s show.

The pair kick back and have swap stories. One of the most notable tales: Jarrett talked about his father Ned’s friendship with Dale Jr.’s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt.

Jarrett related how the relationship between his father and Ralph hit a rough patch after they had a dust-up in a Sportsman race. The normally mild-mannered Ned was so angry at Ralph that he refused to attend his wife’s baby shower for Dale Sr. because Ralph would also be in attendance.

Ned Jarrett dutifully drove his wife to the shower, but stayed in his car the entire time.

Catch the outcome of that story, as well as many others on today’s edition of NASCAR America.

If you can’t catch today show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

 

Danielle Trotta new host of NBCSN’s Victory Lap post-race show

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Danielle Trotta will join NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage as host of the “Victory Lap” post-race show for select Cup Series races this year.

Trotta made the announcement Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track,” the show she began co-hosting this year with Larry McReynolds.

Trotta has also been with NBC Sports Boston since 2018.

As part of “Victory Lap,” which begins Sunday at 7 p.m. on NBCSN after the Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, fans will be able to call in with questions about the race. Trotta will be joined by AJ Allmendinger and Parker Kligerman this weekend.

“It’ll be fun to continue the conversation,” Trotta said after making the announcement on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think after the race ends and you hear the driver’s post-race comments and we see the highlights, as a race fan on so many Sundays, I would sit on my couch and want more. I would want more coverage, more conversation, more conjecture and I think that’s exactly what NASCAR “Victory Lap” has always been and will continue to be, and then we take the next step of really wanting the conversation to be interactive and having people call live into the show.”

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