Clint Bowyer left Texas a happier man than he had been after the first day of on-track activity.
Bowyer’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford started deep in the field, 25th, but spent the whole 501-mile O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 methodically climbing the leaderboard to end up with his best finish of the season — runner-up to race winner Denny Hamlin.
“Unclogged — we definitely unclogged ourselves from qualifying,” Bowyer laughed after his second top-five finish of the season. “Our car handled good. It wasn’t lightning fast all day long, but as they started slip0sliding around and struggling, we’d kind of prevail on those long runs. That was our M.O.”
On Friday, the Ford driver didn’t hide his disdain for qualifying gamesmanship when he felt he was blocked on pit road by Ryan Newman. The words ‘clog’ and ‘clogging’ were mentioned several times during his frustration-laden interviews.
“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Bowyer also said at the time. “It’s sad. Those people up there paid a lot of money to bring their families here to watch a qualifying session where people try to go out and do their best. [But then] you’re just sitting around waiting because you know your best is only good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying. Whatever.
“Learn from your mistakes. That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We already had their failure, and here we are doing it again. Come on.”
Bowyer acknowledged he didn’t have the fastest car Sunday’s field and was even nervous going into the race because of how “off” it had been. Then he failed to score points in either of the first two stages.
Late in the final stage, though, Bowyer began a steady move toward the front.
Cycled to second as the final round of green flag pit stops began, Bowyer came down pit road with 16 laps remaining and took two tires. When the field settled for the run to the checkered flag, he was second but never within reach of challenging Hamlin, who had taken fuel only to wind up with a comfortable lead.
“All in all, I’m really happy to finish where we did,” Bowyer said. “What a wild race. Just about the time you think you’re gonna have some stage points, the caution comes out. And then you thought you were back in and it happens again.
“Then you’re like, ‘Well, damn. What kind of haymakers are gonna be thrown at the end?’ … and they just weren’t.
“Anytime you finish second it’s like, ‘What could I have done?’ When he [Hamlin] came out of the pits that far ahead of us I was like, ‘We’re in big trouble.’ But second is not bad for the way our weekend started.”