What am I going to write about?
That question flashed through my mind late Monday as the STP 500 wound down. At that point there had been none of the big newsworthy moments most have come to expect from racing at Martinsville Speedway. No pissed-off drivers. No big wrecks. No feuds ready to boil over on pit road.
In other words, there were bent fenders but no hurt feelings at the half-mile.
Clint Bowyer was dominating the second half of the race, racking up more laps led in a single day than he had in the previous three seasons combined. But, dude hadn’t won a race in nearly five-and-a-half years, so surely Kyle Busch or someone else was going to spoil the fun.
The Chevrolets still appeared out to lunch. After a strong start in the first stage, Denny Hamlin had slid back and damage ended his bid for a victory. Two of the best at Martinsville, Busch and Brad Keselowski, had only led a combined 25 laps.
I knew what I wanted to write, and that was Bowyer. Series veteran wins again and has epic post-race party.
Journalists live for good stories. Emotional stories. Stories a reader can sink his or her teeth into. Bowyer has always been a driver to provide those. But since the fall of 2012 at Charlotte – his last Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win – most Bowyer stories have been about how awful things have gone.
Driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012, Bowyer finished second in points while earning single-season career highs in top-10 finishes (23), top-five finishes (10) and wins (three).
Then in 2013, he became the center of a scandal at Richmond Raceway when he intentionally spun to help teammate Martin Truex Jr.
Bowyer’s reputation took a major hit. Sponsors left MWR. NASCAR kicked Truex out of the playoffs. Two years later, the organization shut down and Bowyer needed a new home. He eventually signed with Stewart-Haas Racing, but had to spend a gap year elsewhere.
That place was HScott Motorsports, and it was an absolute disaster. To say 2016 was the worst of Bowyer’s career would be an understatement. Bowyer finished in the top 10 just three times, had no top-five finishes and led three laps. By season’s end, he was 27th in points.
For Bowyer, the fun of racing was gone. For everyone else, the entertainment he provided had been diminished. Even in his first year at SHR, Bowyer was competitive but had nothing to show for it. No wins. Not an appearance in the playoffs.
What a sad decline for a driver who once appeared destined for superstardom. One who got his shot by being plucked out of the Mid-West by Richard Childress.
After Monday, the Bowyer narrative goes this way: celebratory burnouts, jumping up and down on the roof, running to his family on the frontstretch, victory lane beer chugging, spraying champagne on fans in the grandstands.
The media center was once again a lively place.
“How ’bout that? Wooooooooooo!” Bowyer said upon his arrival.
When instructed to pick up the microphone Bowyer continued, “I don’t even need a damn mic! I’ll be damned!”
Bowyer makes those stories journalists crave. Sure, he has a reputation for having a short attention span, or being like an Energizer Bunny with no off button. But it’s all genuine. It’s real. It’s entertaining.
Stop if you’ve heard or read this before: NASCAR needs that. Bowyer does things his way and that’s usually a million miles a minute. Whether it’s asking fans for a beer, giving interviews that result in highlights which live on forever, or playing with flame thrower (yes, he’s done that) the racing world is a better place with Bowyer in the spotlight.
What is there to write about? Thankfully, the answer to that one that has been 190 races in the making.