It’s almost as if a flip has been switched on the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team, and Clint Bowyer isn’t all that surprised.
Entering the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (Sunday, 2p.m. ET, Fox), Bowyer is riding a wave of four consecutive top-seven finishes, which started at Martinsville Speedway. Martinsville, of course, was the first race after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returned from its west coast tour.
The three weeks of Las Vegas, ISM Raceway, and Fontana wasn’t kind to Bowyer, whose results read 14th, 11th, and 38th. Bowyer and his SHR counterparts knew it was about surviving those races and then getting the cars back to the shop to implement changes and upgrades to pick up the performance. Most of the cars put on track in March were already built before the season started, and not much could be done as teams navigated those three races across the country.
“I think the west coast thing, and the start of our season, is just one or the other,” Bowyer said. “Everybody works hard in the offseason, puts in the due diligence and works hard to make sure that we hit the ground running, and sometimes that doesn’t work. Last year with the Stewart-Haas cars, we did. We rolled through the west coast swing, came out with a handful of confidence, didn’t really need to work on much. We had a lot of strength and a few weaknesses we needed to polish up, but we really were strong early and got that points base established and rode that wave through the summer months.
“This year, we missed it. We weren’t exactly where we wanted to be, where we thought we’d be. But once you get back (home) with the group that we have, a group of racers, in the trenches at Stewart-Haas Racing, you knew it wouldn’t take long to get to the punch and get our cars right.”
In the last four weeks Bowyer has finished seventh (Martinsville), second (Texas), seventh (Bristol), and third (Richmond). He was in contention for a possible victory in each of those races. Two speeding penalties hindered him in Martinsville, while a late charge in Texas wasn’t enough to run down Denny Hamlin. He called his Bristol result “horribly disappointing” after having a car strong on the long runs and not on restarts as the race came down to a 15 laps sprint.
In the series’ most recent event, Bowyer ran down Martin Truex Jr. but could never take the lead and faded late. He was followed across the finish line by teammate Kevin Harvick, and while Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez also had strong cars, both encountered setbacks.
With Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske having won all nine races this season, SHR looks to be next in line to close the gap. Harvick is fourth in points with Bowyer eighth.
“It all comes back to the people working tirelessly to get our cars turned around, and I think the results the last month really proved it,” said Bowyer. “Knocked on the door pretty hard myself and Kevin’s been running well, Aric’s been running well.
“Our cars are good. It’s exciting times right now. That first group of tracks is behind us, and we learned what we needed to learn and put it to good use.”