FONTANA, Calif. — Fun was the buzz word for Clint Bowyer on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway, following a strong top-five finish for the Kansas native in the Auto Club 400 after more than a year of trials and tribulation.
In fact, during his post-race interview following the race — where he ran in the top five for more laps than in his last 52 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts combined — Bowyer used the word three separate times to describe his emotions regarding his strongest performance in many moons.
Bowyer started 17th in the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Fusion but was inside the top 10 before the end of the first stage, finishing sixth at the first break and then improving to fourth by the second stage break as he contended for the lead briefly following a cycle of green-flag pit stops.
However, it was Sunday’s overtime restart where he was at his best, charging from sixth to third in the final two laps after passing Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney in a thrilling show.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been battling up at the front of the field,” Bowyer grinned after the race. “You know, we’ve been beaten up a lot lately, over the last year and a half or so, and it just feels good to be part of the camera shot again, you know?”
The finish was his best Cup result since a fifth-place effort in the 2015 Bristol Night Race and began to soothe the sting of a lackluster season last year with HScott Motorsports, in which he could do no better than seventh at Talladega in May and never cracked the top 10 on a downforce track.
“It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder and we’re getting closer,” said Bowyer of coming home third. “Obviously, this is a good track for me. I wanted to win that damn thing, but to come home with the wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it.”
Speaking of “everything that it was,” Bowyer was also thankful for the late-race chaos (in the form of four cautions over the final 21 laps) that allowed him to work his way back forward before the end of the race.
“When those cautions came out at the end, you knew all hell was gonna break loose, and it did!” he laughed. “It was just a lot of fun out there, though; it really was. It’s fun, man.”
“Thank you Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, for giving me this opportunity to be in the 14 car, and to have teammates like I have … because it’s just incredible. It’s so much fun again to be up (at the front) and in competitive cars, battling it out again.”
Sunday appeared to mark the beginnings of a revival for Bowyer, who finished second in the Cup championship race to Brad Keselowski in 2012 but has watched his results and performance decline ever since, including the closing of both Michael Waltrip Racing (2015) and HScott (2016) at the end of his tenures with the two teams.
And while one race doesn’t necessarily give enough of a sample size to denote a trend, it would seem to mark the continuation of a huge early season run by SHR since their switch to Ford over the offseason.
Bowyer’s teammate Kurt Busch won the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, followed by a near-weekend sweep for Kevin Harvick in Atlanta three weeks ago.
This time, however, it was Bowyer’s time to shine. He was the only SHR driver to finish inside the top 10 Sunday, one day after saying that the team “had to get in the top 10, because this is a top 10 company.”
“We never showed the speed in practice, but I wasn’t worried about it because I knew the car was really comfortable on the long run and things like that,” he explained. “I was proud of the effort that Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and all the guys give me each and every week.”
“I’m just having fun again. That’s what it’s about.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: email@example.com
Email Race Chaser Online: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews