With the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series closing quickly on its Chase for the Championship playoffs, Clint Bowyer is one of the current title favorites.
With two victories in 2018, the Stewart Haas Racing driver has locked up his place in the 16-driver playoff field. He rolls into New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., for Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 sitting sixth in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings with six top fives and 10 top 10s in 19 events this year. The start time of Sunday’s race has been moved up an hour to 1 p.m because of the weather forecast.
But don’t expect to see any cocky swagger from Bowyer concerning status as a title contender this year.
The 39-year-old isn’t celebrating his place among the elite, but rather relishing the fact that he’s in the spot he is.
“Once you’ve been beat up as bad as I have and kind of get dragged back out of that and start running good again, I’m just living in the moment and enjoying every bit of it,” Bowyer said. “Yeah I’m focused on getting more wins because that furthers your chances of going more rounds in the playoffs. I like the playoffs, I like that intensity, I like being able to rise to the occasion of putting all the cards on the table and going for it.”
Two years ago running for a championship again at NASCAR’s top level was the furthest thought for the Emporia, Kansas, native. Bowyer was more worried about just keeping a ride and finishing races.
From 2007-13 Bowyer finished in the top 10 in the Monster Energy Cup standings five times, finishing third in 2007 and second in 2012.
From 2006-11 Bowyer competed for Richard Childress Racing. In 2012 he went to Michael Waltrip and had a career season, grabbing three victories and finishing runner-up to champion Brad Keselowski. But by 2014 Michael Waltrip racing was hitting hard times and after the 2015 season Bowyer was gone from the organization. He was left driving for the low-level HScott Motorsports team in 2016.
After years of competing week in and week out near the front of the field, Bowyer was suddenly struggling just to crack the top-20 most weeks. He had an average finish of 23.6 in 2016 with just three top-10 performances in 36 events.
“It’s been a humbling sport for me big time,” Bowyer said. “I’ve been up and down, up and down and up and down now. Hopefully I’m up for good. It seems like you get on a roll and you get grounded in a really good situation with good people around you and bits and pieces get taken away here and there and the next thing you know you’re struggling and the next thing you know you’re at a different deal.”
Bowyer landed with Stewart Haas Racing for the 2017 season, and the struggles continued, finishing 18th in the standings. But in 2018 Bowyer has found his way back to the front. On March 26 he got his ninth career Monster Energy Cup Series victory – and first since 2012 – at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. He added another win on June 10 at Michigan International Speedway.
Bowyer credits the organizational structure at Stewart Haas Racing, a team owned by former Monster Energy Cup champion Tony Stewart, for his resurgence.
All four cars in the Stewart Haas Racing stable sit in the top-11 in the standings with Kevin Harvick in second, Kurt Busch in seventh and Aric Almirola in 11th. The Chase for the Championship starts on Sept. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It’s always about people in life, whether you’re in business or racing, it’s always about people,” Bowyer said. “We just have it all right now. The organization – Stewart Haas Racing – it’s the one everybody is chasing. There’s drivers and teams at other organizations that can compete here or there. Obviously Kyle [Busch] is winning races and things like that, but organizationally, with four cars running as strong as we are, all in the [top-11], it’s pretty impressive.”
Two of Bowyer’s 10 career Monster Energy Cup Series victories have taken place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He won in Loudon in 2007 and 2010.
Bowyer, who came up through the sport through short track racing, credits the short track personality of the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval for his success at the facility.
“It’s just that short track mentality,” Bowyer said. “A lot of patience. You’ve got to be disciplined as a driver. You can’t over drive in corners, pick up the gas up too soon, blow the tires off driving up off [the corners]. You’ve got to stay focused on rolling that middle and drive off and not buzzing them tires. … It’s so hard to do and very challenging at that track.”
Bowyer was one driver who was disappointed to see New Hampshire Motor Speedway lose it’s September event following the 2017 season. The second NHMS event was moved to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It was kind of frustrating,” Bowyer said. “I like the track. I like the event. So much racing goes on up there. The Modified race, the [K&N Pro Series East], Late Models are racing, Trucks maybe, XFINITY [Series], Cup racing. I mean I’m talking racing. If you’re a race fan those people get to see a lot of racing going on. It’s one of the only tracks where I go up in the stands and watch. I go up and watch the Modifieds or go up and watch the Late Model race or the K&N race. It’s just good racing and it’s daily that’s goes on and on all weekend long.”