The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Kansas Speedway this weekend for the Hollywood Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN). It’s the last race of the second round of the Cup playoffs, meaning this Sunday’s race has a ton of importance on it. But, for one driver, this weekend’s race on the 1.5-mile track is as meaningful as any other on the 36 race schedule.
For Clint Bowyer, he’d love nothing more than to win a Cup race at Kansas. The reason? It’s his home track.
Bowyer, 38, grew up in nearby Emporia, Kansas. It’s a place that’s near and dear to him. It’s a place that the Stewart-Haas Racing driver still visits numerous times. It’s a place that shaped him to be the driver and man he is today.
“People are what make you,” said Bowyer. “As you grow up in a community, it’s the people within that community who you learn from and everything else.
“When I first started car racing, it was in a ’78 Camaro, it was junkyard parts so you had to go to Junkyard John and, if you blew something up or needed a brake caliper or an A-frame or just anything – a spindle – you had to go to see Junkyard John. My dad owned his own towing service in Emporia, so they always did business together and stuff. Impounded cars always went to the junkyard, and he always let me go over and rummage through the stuff and work on my stuff.”
Now that he’s returning to the track for the second time this season, he’d love nothing more than to win on Sunday afternoon in front of his family and friends. He even says that a win at Kansas would rank up there with a win in the prestigious Daytona 500.
“Kansas is obviously at the top of the list, right up there with a Daytona 500, of places I’d really like to get a victory,” he said. “I won’t complain no matter where we win our next race, but winning at Kansas would be extra special for a lot of people in the Bowyer family.”
Bowyer, enters the weekend after an accident left him with a 35th-place finish Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. The incident ruined a race that saw Bowyer finish sixth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2.
While he’s racing for 17th in the driver point standings after falling just short of making NASCAR’s 16-driver playoffs, Bowyer’s first year replacing three-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 has been a success. The Mike Bugarewicz-led team has posted three second- and two third-place finishes. The No. 14 team’s average finish of 15.3 is the 12th best of the full-time teams in 2017.
But, coming home also means distractions. Being back in Kansas means that it’s not the usual race weekend. Does that make things more difficult?
“It’s difficult to go home because of getting pulled in all the different directions – all the while trying to focus on getting a good run, because that’s really what’s important to you the most there. It’s important to me to run well in front of all my fans, friends and family.”
Over the years, Bowyer has enjoyed some success at Kansas Speedway, posting two top-five finishes and six top-10s with 48 laps led in 18 starts, including a ninth-place finish in May. He even won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there in 2011.
In March of 2013, Bowyer bought the Clint Bowyer Autoplex car dealership on U.S. Highway 50, where he once worked as a lot attendant, dent specialist and detailer. Across the street sits the Clint Bowyer Community Building, constructed in 2012 thanks to a $1.5 million donation from his foundation. Inside are 25 new computers at the public library. There is also a scoreboard at the aquatic center, a video camera at the auditorium, shoes for the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program, backpacks for kids, Christmas trees for needy families. And, in nearby towns, playground equipment and the reconstruction of a tornado-ravaged community center – all of it and more paid for by Bowyer’s foundation, or out of the driver’s own pocket.
Emporia, appreciates their native son, having renamed the street on which the family towing business resides as “Hon. Clint Bowyer Boulevard.” Now, Bowyer is looking to make it come in full circle with a win in front of all those folks who’ve been behind him since day one.