DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Heading into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season opener at Daytona, I thought that Clint Bowyer was an excellent sleeper choice to win the 60th annual Daytona 500. Bowyer, started 10th in his No. 14 Ford and was part of the organization that won last year’s race. Furthermore, his manufacturer in Ford had won seven straight points paying restrictor plate races and had been the class of the field so far during Speedweeks.
The gameplan was perfect for he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team. The Kansas native dropped to the back to bide his time as the name of the game on Sunday was survival. He was right too. A nine car accident occurred on the final lap of the first stage, and luckily Bowyer was far enough behind to avoid it. His car was handling poorly at the time so the team made several changes during his first few pit stops to get it back to his liking.
He’d restart ninth for the second stage and run inside the top 10 for most of the way. He’d avoid another big accident on Lap 103 and was looking like a clear favorite to win. Several front runners were taken out at that time including Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and his SHR teammate of Kevin Harvick. It was Bowyer’s time to shine now.
While under the caution flag for the accident though, Bowyer’s bad luck struck. He lost a cylinder in his Ford engine during the caution for that crash, which forced him to pit road for repairs. He’d lose two laps in the process and return to the track two laps down. They’d gain one back during the next caution for the wave around, but he could never get the other lap back. Bowyer, would finish 15th though in Sunday’s race. This was Bowyer’s seventh top-15 finish in the Daytona 500.
Unfortunately, he has to wonder what might have been.
“Our plan was working,” said Bowyer after the race. “A lot of cars we knew we had to beat were out of the race. We had hung back working on our handling and just waiting to the end of the race. I kept telling my guys to stay patient, there were going to be more wrecks. Sure enough that’s what happened, and we avoided any damage, but when I got on the brakes hard something happened, because we were now down a cylinder. We tried, but there was no way to fix it. We went back out there and were pretty decent, considering. Now we’ll focus on Atlanta.”