Clint Bowyer: ‘It’s go time’ heading into Coca-Cola 600

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This is a special weekend for Clint Bowyer for several reasons.

From a racing perspective, he enjoys the challenge presented by the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But there’s also a personal perspective for Bowyer.

For more than 30 years, the Speedway has honored those that have served in the military, with special recognition for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Bowyer not only salutes the troops, it also allows him to reflect upon his grandfather, a World War II war hero. Bowyer never met his paternal grandfather, but his legacy has had a profound impact upon the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang.

Lieutenant Dale E. Bowyer was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He won several awards for courage and heroism during his tour of duty fighting Germany in World War II, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.

The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest military decoration that is awarded by the Army.

As the Army and allied troops pushed deep into Germany, the elder Bowyer’s platoon came under heavy enemy attack in early 1945.

Dale Bowyer was severely wounded by a land mine, shattering both feet, but he refused to be evacuated, choosing to remain with his platoon and lead them to safety.

The platoon regrouped and continued their advance. It was only then that Lt. Bowyer allowed himself to be evacuated. He eventually lost one of his injured legs due to the blast.

When he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the commendation to Bowyer read in part: “His devotion to duty and to his men, and his courage and fearless determination, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

After the war, Dale Bowyer worked in the dairy business in Iola, Kansas. Clint Bowyer never met his grandfather, who passed away in 1974.

“I never got to meet him but I’ve seen a lot of letters from the President, medals and all these awards that he got,” Bowyer said of his grandfather. “I have the highest respect for him and every soldier who has served this country.

“I love getting to meet them when they come to the track and I like getting to meet their families and just tell them thank you. We owe so much to everyone who’s served and we will always remember the ones who have given their lives.”

Private First Class Andy Krippner’s name will be on Bowyer’s car in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. (Photo courtesy Stewart-Haas Racing)

Bowyer thinks about his grandfather a lot, particularly around this time of year. In Sunday’s race, he will also be saluting the memory of Private First Class Andy Krippner of Garland, Texas, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2011, just a few days after turning 20 years old.

Krippner had been in-country just six weeks when he and three other soldiers were killed after their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

“Everyone knows what we are going through right now as a country and it’s easy to get down,” Bowyer said. “But when you hear the stories of Andy Krippner and others who have sacrificed their lives for this country, you get a new perspective.

“I am incredibly honored to carry Andy’s name on our car and can’t thank him and his family and friends enough for the sacrifices made for our country.”

As for Sunday’s race, the scheduled 600 miles each driver hopes to complete will make it 1,312 miles in three races, including the two this week at Darlington.

Bowyer hopes to build upon the momentum he gained from Darlington, particularly Wednesday night’s race. He became the first driver this season to lead both stages and led 71 laps, but he made contact with the wall late in the race and finished 22nd.

“I was very proud of the Mustang my guys brought to me in such a short turnaround,” said Bowyer, who finished 17th in last Sunday’s return to racing after the COVID-19 hiatus. “The thing just took off behind two cars racing for lucky dog and smoked the wall and blew our night. We keep doing that, our day will come.”

Bowyer enters the 600 ninth in the standings, 88 points behind series leader and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.

“Everyone gets caught up in the return to racing and rightly so,” said Bowyer. “But these races mean a lot for points and making the playoffs. We need to run up front and get those bonus points and have a strong finish. It’s go time.”

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Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.