“Nothing tastes sweeter than winning races – it had been too long,” said Clint Bowyer on Thursday. “Getting back to Victory Lane was huge and it was great to have the whole family there with me in Martinsville.”
Sunday’s Daytona 500 will launch the 71st season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, and a driver who certainly has a shot at winning it all is 13-year veteran Bowyer. After an unexpected five-year walkabout in which he never caught a glimpse of Victory Lane, Bowyer lit a fuse in 2018, winning twice, slotting-within the top five on nine occasions, and finishing out the season a sold 12th in final points. Backed by Stewart Haas Racing, the 40 year-old has designs on big things this season and his journey will start on Sunday, when he will make his 470th Cup start.
Q: With the new NASCAR-mandated horsepower and aero variables applied to the 2019 cars, what’s your take thus far?
CLINT BOWYER: “We actually tried the car out in Las Vegas last week and it felt great, but obviously it’s impossible to know exactly how it’s going to feel until you hit the track and you’ve got a bunch of other guys all around you. That said, I trust our team 100 percent to successfully adapt to the changes. They have been working hard in the off-season, as have our partners. I know Mobil 1 has developed a new oil specifically for the Daytona 500, those guys are so much more than sponsors to us, and they are a true technical partners.”
What’s it going to take for you to not only win races this year, but to make a run at the championship?
“For us to win, we have to minimize mistakes. If we cut back on mistakes, I believe we have a genuine shot. We have a great car, great team and great partners on board to really help us succeed.”
What made 2018 go so well for you?
“I think we had a strong start and kept that confidence going all year. I mean, 190 races is a long time without a win. Getting that monkey off my back was a huge turning point in the season, and a real highlight of the year for me. Snagging two wins gave us a confident boost we needed.
What didn’t go well last year? You had six DNFs that were pretty costly…
“Yeah, hitting that wall in the round of eight was a killer. We just got beat up in the playoffs. We knew it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride, so we went all-in for the final eight and came up short. Blowing tires is frustrating and it ended a pretty great year on a bad note. At the end of the day, racing well early on in the year doesn’t matter if we can’t stay on the track at the end of the year.”
What’ll be your approach in 2019?
“Definitely a marathon ahead, but I am as confident as I ever have been. We improved a lot last year and we plan to keep that going. We’ve got to keep winning during the season and take that to another level when the playoffs come around.”
Looking at the variety of tracks — 1.5s, superspeedways, road courses, short tracks — where will you shine? And where will you and the team need to raise your game?
“There is so much new with the rules package in 2019 that I think we are just going to have to wait and see. That’s going to be the fun of it this year, there are so many unknowns.”
How do you view the Daytona 500? Love it? Hate it? Special?
“Let me tell you, the Daytona 500 is still the granddaddy of them all, and the race everyone wants to win. You are still going to see the same wild racing and the same intensity. That’s the trophy we all want.”