Having spent the day clawing his way toward the front at Bristol Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer finally found himself in second place when the Food City 500 win was on the line. The only problem was that it was inside 12 laps to go and leader Jimmie Johnson was nowhere in sight.
“Sucks,” Bowyer deadpanned when asked what his mindset was when getting to second.
But what a feeling to have considering the position Bowyer has been in the last few seasons. Monday, he earned his second top-five finish in eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this year. Before this season, the last time Bowyer had scored a top five was at Bristol in 2015.
How long has it been since Bowyer finished second in a race? One has to go all the way back to the spring race at Richmond in 2013. So even though Bowyer knew he wasn’t likely to win the Food City 500, his intensity level did pick up seeing a victory so close.
“You’re watching your lap times, and you’re adjusting everything you can possibly adjust,” Bowyer said. “From a track bar adjustment to adjusting your line on the racetrack, just trying every little thing you can possibly do. It was like if I could gain on him one lap and then he’d gain on me the next, and then it just kind of fell by the wayside. Kind of realized it was a second-place day.”
Winless since 2012, Monday was the closest Bowyer has come to victory lane in quite some time. Nearly losing a lap early and being busted for speeding on pit road (Lap 326 of 500) didn’t derail him, although Bowyer acknowledged you can’t let winning opportunities slip away. Racing a seven-time champion, however, Bowyer knew Johnson wasn’t going to open the door by making a mistake, and he wasn’t going to wish ill-will on him either.
“It’s Jimmie Johnson,” Bowyer said. “You try everything you possibly can, like I said, and I was starting to do some pretty desperate things with brakes and my line and stuff like that, and then you just realize – your mindset quickly changes, and you’re like, ‘All right, let’s put it in perspective here, we’ve come a long way, it was a long day, and second place is probably a good run for us, and we should be happy with that. We shouldn’t hang our head about it.'”
With everything he’s gone through, being satisfied with running well but coming up short is still a hard balance for Bowyer.
“It’s called racing,” Bowyer said. “Been that way my whole life, since I was about five years old. You struggle and struggle and struggle for a year and a half here, and hell, next thing you know you’re being greedy about second. That’s just the way racers are wired and the way it’s always been.
“Having a ton of fun and working hard and seeing the results is gratifying for this race team. We need sponsorship on the side of this car rather than the boss (Gene Haas and Haas Automation), and good runs like this and positive momentum and mojo is a good way to do that.”