mike bugarewicz

Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin salvage top 10s after pit road penalties

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Clint Bowyer places at least some of the blame on his two pit road speeding penalties Sunday at Martinsville Speedway with what happened Saturday at the half-mile short track.

Bowyer, who placed seventh in a failed attempt to defend his STP 500 win, would like better pit road conditions to work with.

“It’s so hard to practice pit road speed,” a dispirited Bowyer said on pit road after his second top 10 of the season. “You’ve got (Gander Outdoors) Trucks on pit road when we’re trying to practice that. I’m not making any excuses. When you’re trying to pinch it for every little thing out of it. It’s hard this week to practice pit road speed because of all the stuff on pit road.”

After he placed sixth in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2, Bowyer’s No. 14 was caught speeding the first time on Lap 314 after he pitted from third place. Bowyer was able to make it up to 13th in the next 60 laps.

Then on his next trip to pit road, Bowyer was again dinged for speeding.

“I guess we need to get our stuff together on being on the same page with that pit road stuff,” Bowyer said. “That’s such an important thing, such a big part of this style of racing where track position is everything. We push it to the limit.”

Before he pitted for a final time with just under 55 laps to go, Bowyer was told by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz they had figured out he wasn’t running close enough to the pit wall in the section the penalties occurred.

Bowyer didn’t speed and restarted eighth.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver claimed his first top 10 since he placed fifth at Atlanta.

“I don’t think anybody had anything for (race winner Brad Keselowski),” Bowyer said. “But I think we were a top-three car for sure. We just kept beating ourselves.”

Bowyer wasn’t the only driver to salvage a decent finish after a pit road penalty.

After an uncontrolled tire penalty on Lap 265, Denny Hamlin roared back to finish fifth for the second time in the last three races.

“We lost a lot of spots on pit road even before that, and then just went to the back like we do most races and came back to fifth,” Hamlin said. “When you don’t have the best car, you have to pretty much execute perfectly. We didn’t, but it wouldn’t have mattered because the best car didn’t falter.”
Hamlin had stage finishes of fourth and third before the pit penalty occurred
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has two consecutive top fives at Martinsville and 14 in his 27 career starts.
“We kind of got back to where we kind of belonged, and that was the end of it,” Hamlin said. “We have to get a little better with the handling to handle right where (Keselowski is) at.”

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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What drivers said after Cup playoff race at Phoenix

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I’d like to think it gives us a lot (of momentum), but I don’t know – talk is cheap. We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial. I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was ‘all bets are off and it’s time to go.’ … It’s awesome to celebrate like this and we were the first ones in the Richmond victory lane and we’re the first ones in the Phoenix victory lane and I called my shot a few months ago because they had the 48 on the map showing everyone where things are at and I said, ‘That ain’t right, that’s going to be us.’ I’m glad I could be a man of my word.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “We definitely made the right call. It just didn’t quite work out. Man, it was close. I needed to pass (Aric Almirola) like a lap earlier and we were all racing for all we’ve got. It was close.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 4th: “I thought we were a seventh to sixth-place car and that’s what I thought we were yesterday too. (Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and all these guys fought their guts out and I fought my guts out inside the race car and gave it everything we had. We took a seventh or eighth-place car and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race. I’m just really thankful for this group and these guys on the Smithfield team are awesome. This is our first year working together. You look at all the teams we’re racing and they’ve got four, five, six, seven years working together, so what we’ve accomplished in one year is a hell of a lot, but right now all I can think about is being inside of Kyle down there in the new one and two and just not being able to get the power down to get up beside him. It’s bittersweet. It was a good day for us, but today we needed to win and we didn’t win.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “I felt (the tire) start to go down going into Turn 1 there and just slowed down to the point where I thought I could at least make it back to the pits and not hit the wall. It came at an OK time because it didn’t tear the car up. It never really drove as well after that, but we kept ourselves in position all day and there at the end it was just like with everybody wrecking and all over the place, we just needed to stay out of trouble and try to find a safe spot there.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 8th: “Yeah for sure, I’m proud of our American Ethanol E15 car and our team. It was a solid run all weekend. We had a top 10 car. That is what we had. We proved that. It kind of bit us, we pitted and the caution came out and that was… we had to really fight to get back that, but luckily the wrecks happened. It put us back in a pretty good position. We decided to stay out on old tires and fight them off to the end. That was a fun run for our team and our Camaro. We will work on that. That is two top 10’s in a row and I’m happy.”

William Byron — Finished 9th: “we haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying. Got some damage there, but we were able to come back, I guess, and finish ninth, so I guess that’s decent, and going to Homestead next week.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 10th: “We were up there and we had underdog speed in the top 15 three quarters through the race and I didn’t like having all those cautions. I did because it would give us a chance to fire back off, but once we got leveled out those guys could just drive right by us. We are still working on our speed. We are still making the most of it. It was nice to be able to survive, catch a couple of breaks, catch a lot of breaks actually. Just have luck on our side for once. It was great to have the Air Force on our car for Veteran’s Day and our Chevrolet was actually decent this time.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 12th: That was a really solid day for our Kroger ClickList team. We’ve been searching for some speed at ISM Raceway the last several years, and to be able to gain spots on pit road and track position was a huge advantage for us. That was probably the best Kroger ClickList car I’ve had here. I’m really proud of the whole team for being able to get us some solid finishes the last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to finishing out the season strong next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 13th: “We had an opportunity there and I think the (Erik Jones) got together there and going into the corner I got underneath and it looked like I got loose, I thought I got hit, but nobody was near me. I got loose and I chased it up the race track and (Kurt Busch) was right there. Then it looked like he hit the wall and I was up there and kind of pinched him and then hit the wall again. It was not going to be good. He kind of turned us then, but I can’t blame him, Kurt’s been fair to me in so many years of racing. I’ve never had one incident with him, he’s been as fair to me as anyone out there and I hate it for him because trust me, I was rooting for him – all of today I was rooting for (Busch) to be the guy that got in there. Ultimately we have to go out there to try to race to win and we were battling hard off the corner. Just ran out of real estate for sure.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “We didn’t have the greatest car, but we battled hard and we had a little bit of good fortune. Made good calls, good strategy and good adjustments on the car. We got it to where it was pretty decent. The short runs just really killed us today. It would take 40 or 50 laps for the car to come in and then a caution would come out. All in all, I’m just really proud of everybody, everybody back in Denver at the shop for continuing to bring good race cars and stay focused.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 16th: “It’s definitely probably the best run I’ve had here and I’m really proud of the guys. I made mistakes on pit road instead. It’s kind of a trick pit road now with curves and straights and I was just pushing it too hard. We were able to rebound. I wish we could have got that lucky dog a little bit sooner, but (Matt Kenseth) and I were racing hard for it and it was just a tough battle there. I’m glad to get a top 20 and get some momentum back going to Homestead.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 19th: “What a crazy day of highs and lows for our GEICO Military team. My Camaro ZL1 had a great balance through the start and middle of the race, I just needed a bit more drive through the corners. Then the battery problem hit us, and we had to switch out batteries during a caution. That could have potentially ended our day, but thankfully the voltage maintained instead of dropping. My balance wasn’t exactly where I needed it in the final stage of the race, but my team kept tweaking it to get it closer. Everyone’s hard work today earned us a top-20 finish. We came to Phoenix wanting to make the most of what we have left of the season, and I’d say that we capitalized on everything we had today.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 30th: “We had an uncontrolled tire early. I don’t know, I guess the computer told them it was an uncontrolled tire. It didn’t look uncontrolled to me, but the computer is probably a whole lot smarter than me. We kind of got off pit strategy trying to come back from that. We were going to be able to overcome it and have a decent day. It was just kind of odd. Some odd things going on and then they crashed in front of us and knocked the duct work out of it. Hendrick Motorsports builds great engines, this wasn’t an engine failure because of them, this was an engine failure because it had no duct work and it ran 350 degrees for 20 laps and it can only do that for so long.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 23rd: “Was speeding on pit road and ultimately that is what got us behind. You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week. Just unfortunate and especially that late in the race. So, that was just my fault and really no excuse for it. So, we will try again next year.

Kurt Busch — Finished 32nd: Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turn) 1 and 2. If I could have been to somebody’s outside off two, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out. I thought it was the right decision on staying out. I’m not gonna look back on it. If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rulebook. I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day. It was a really good year for our Haas Automation Ford. Thanks to Monster Energy and everybody that put their talent into that 41 car. I just didn’t get the job done to get us to Homestead.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 33rd: “It looked like we just blew a tire there.  We were actually getting our Ford Fusion better and better throughout the race.  We had a great qualifying spot, but obviously didn’t feel like we were capable of running there, but we were definitely getting our car better and better.  I felt pretty competitive that last run and bummed that it ended that way.  I thought we were moving forward and passing some good cars, but, all in all, it just wasn’t meant to be today and we’ll go on to Homestead.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 34th: “I thought we were pretty good. We definitely made big gains here. We were running top five all day. They noticed some water in the pit box on that last stop and I had no water pressure. We took off on the restart and it was blowing up. We found that a lugnut went through the radiator, so it’s just pure luck. We finally have a decent run here and that happens. The good news is we made good gains here, so that’s something to look forward to.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 35th: “I guess we cut a left-rear tire down. I don’t know if it’s a product of being able to get down on the back straightaway off the race track like that. At the end of the day it’s pretty unique. We travel all across the country running on race tracks that we race on the race track and this one we spend more time off of it. It’s fun to be able to do that, but I don’t know. After I saw (Joey Logano) and then felt my left-rear go, maybe that was a product of that. We’ve run low air on these short tracks like this on our left sides and maybe that was it. It’s just kind of the way our Playoffs are going. It’s frustrating. We’ve had a great year getting to where we were part of this Playoff situation and being in contention to be able to run for a championship. There’s a lot of pride with (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and all the guys on the 14 car. It’s been a lot of fun to go to battle each and every week all across the country with these guys. Stewart-Haas, I can’t say enough about the job the men and women have done at Stewart Haas getting all four cars in the playoffs and then obviously winning and being in victory lane, and everything Ford and everybody involved has done for us. I’m proud of our season, bummed for our day. It’s always fun to come out here to Phoenix. It’s a hell of a crowd today, appreciate everybody coming out. Unfortunately, we were a caution. You never want to be a caution.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th: “The left-rear tire went flat. I don’t really know why. It just kind of came out of nowhere. We may have run something over, I don’t know. I went down on the flat a couple laps earlier to make a pass and I don’t know if it hit a little bit hard, maybe it knocked the fender into it, who knows what happened there, but she just went out. I tried to save it. I thought I had it saved, but by the time I got it straightened back out the rest of the tires were flat because I had them flat-spotted. That’s what it is. We’ll move on. We’re locked into Miami, so it doesn’t really matter, so we’ll keep our heads high.”

 

 

NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer crew chief Mike Bugarewicz: ‘We don’t quit’

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With a 73-point deficit to the cutoff, Clint Bowyer is in a must-win situation heading into this week’s Phoenix race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) in order to advance to the championship finale.

“(Round 3) has been a tough one on us,” Mike Bugarewicz, Bowyer’s crew chief, told NASCAR America’s Marty Snider on Tuesday’s show. “It’s definitely challenging us. But that’s what the (playoffs are) all about. … But we have one more shot to make it through to Homestead and we don’t plan to give up yet.

“The question just comes down to be are we going to be a car that can contend for the win on Sunday outright racing them or are we going to have to get strategic and try to figure out a way to get in position. One way or another, we don’t quit.”

Bowyer faces an uphill battle. Phoenix has not been one of his better track over the course of his career. With an average finish of 18.4 in 26 starts, it ranks third-worst behind Darlington (22.8 in 13 starts) and Atlanta (20.4 in 18 starts). Bowyer has not scored a top five at Phoenix since 2008 when he finished second to Jimmie Johnson.

In fact, he’s had only one top 10 in his last 10 Phoenix races (a sixth this spring).

“At the end of the day, you’re still in contention for the big prize,” Bugarewicz said. “Is it going to be a little harder to get there? Absolutely, but at the end of the day we race for wins every week, so this is no different.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All, Stewart-Haas Racing report

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Today’s NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Krista Voda hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty, Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan.

On today’s show:

  • We’ll look back at Sunday’s race and see how Kevin Harvick took down Texas to secure a ticket to the Championship 4 at Miami. We’ll also look at the drama that unfolded for some other Playoff drivers in today’s edition of Scan All: Texas.
  • Marty Snider was busy today at Stewart-Haas Racing. He provides a report on the team’s current situation in the playoffs. He also spoke to Clint Bowyer’s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, as well as Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer. The latter is coming off a win at Texas to grab a spot in the Xfinity Series Championship 4.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the NBC iRacing Simulator to show us the challenges that await the field at the new-look ISM Raceway at Phoenix.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it 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.