The prior three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season were among the most taxing years of Clint Bowyer’s racing career. The final two years with Michael Waltrip Racing saw him finish 19th and 16th respectively in the points standings. He had just seven total top fives in those 72 races over the two years in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, he went to H-Scott Motorsports. He struggled there too.
Bowyer, had just three top 10 finishes a year ago with a best finish of seventh at Talladega. In fact, two of those three top 10’s were on restrictor plate tracks (Talladega and Daytona) and he finished the final half of the year without nabbing a top 10 at all. He didn’t even finish in the top 15 over the final 18 races a year ago.
But, last year he knew he just had to temper those frustrations and get through the year. The reason? He was replacing Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 and as much as that pressure may cause someone to cave, Bowyer was just happy to be in a competitive ride again.
“Tony’s given me a great deal of confidence of putting me in that race car, as has Gene Haas,” Bowyer said ahead of this weekend’s race in Atlanta. “People have asked me, ‘How do you have the confidence to get back to where you need to be?’ And that’s it. That’s all the confidence you need. You have a three-time champion of this sport and a big-time owner in motorsports who had the confidence in you to put you in the thing, so that gave me all the confidence I needed to be behind the wheel.”
Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz agrees.
“This whole team is really excited,” Bugarewicz said. “You can see a new life with us. We’re excited with the new partnership with Ford and especially having Clint on board. You can see it in his face throughout Daytona. Like he said, ‘I feel rich again.’ He’s always a crack-up and going to bring a lot of liveliness to the group just being around him. He’s going to be entertaining, to say the least, this year.”
That confidence showed at Daytona International Speedway last week, when Bowyer qualified fourth, then finished second in his qualifying race. A midrace accident ruined Bowyer’s bid for a good finish and left him with a 32nd-place finish, but the No. 14 crew took confidence in the good Daytona performances.
Stewart was a frequent voice on Bowyer’s radio during the race too.
This weekend, Bowyer will travel to the high-speed Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second race of the Cup Series season. Bowyer, is still looking for his first top-five at Atlanta, but that isn’t indicative of his performance history at the 1.5-mile oval. He led 52 laps at Atlanta during the March 2008 race before finishing sixth. The most heartbreaking moment there came in September 2013, when he led 48 of the first 192 laps before engine failure.
In total, Bowyer has led 115 laps at Atlanta but only has four sixth-place finishes to show for the effort. With the new combination of SHR, Ford and a strong No. 14 team, Bowyer is a good bet to better those marks Sunday.
Bowyer is happy to be even in the race though as his car doesn’t have a sponsor for it. Gene Haas though jumped in and put his name and colors on Bowyer’s No. 14 Chevrolet this weekend, which is something that doesn’t go unnoticed.