“This is the one place I want to win at more than anything,” proclaimed Clint Bowyer at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Obviously, there is the Daytona 500, and shortly after that comes the Bristol night race for me. This is our opportunity and exactly what we need to get our 2019 turned around. This is what we’re headed for.”
15-year-veteran Clint Bowyer needs a win. Desperately. Currently slotted in at 16th in the race for the final place in the looming-large Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the Stewart-Haas Racing wheelman of the No. 14 Ford Mustang is determined to be in the fray when the playoffs kick off in Las Vegas.
“Oh, no doubt I do not want to be on the outside looking in,” said Bowyer, 492 starts into his marathon Cup career. “The crazy thing is that as bad as we’ve finished here lately as well all the crummy finishes and bad luck and all the off-the-wall crap that has happened, we’re still in the thing. We have to buckle down here. We have a great racetrack in front of us this weekend with Bristol and the night race. We’ve been running well here and been knocking on the door pretty loud. I’d love to break through with a win here and get all this talking out from underneath us. We’re looking for that spark, right? Whether you’re in it or not, know you can enter that point of full speed ahead and in full stride. A win here or a win at Darlington or even at Indy would be very, very special.
“Even just making it, man… I tell you, I’ve been in it before when you struggle and struggle and struggle in the summer months and you get that shot in the arm with a great result and you make those playoffs and you’re back off to the races and feeding off of it. I need that result!”
By no means has it been a washout of a Cup season for the native of Emporia, Kansas. Getting in step with Ford’s new Mustang was a bit more of a challenge than perhaps anticipated, but still, Bowyer has five top-5 finishes and a total of nine top 10s. Still, he’s on the bubble and he’d rather not be.
“The capability is there; we just have to finish to our capabilities,” explained Bowyer of the No. 14 SHR outfit. “We’ve been there and raced there and then crazy things have happened and put ourselves in bad situations and drivers have messed up. Anything that has been messed up has happened to us. A few weekends before at Watkins Glen, we were doing everything right – literally everything right. Everything was going right and the guys that we were racing had trouble. Five seconds later – poof! – we get into trouble and put ourselves right back behind the 8 ball and right back to the same scenario where we didn’t gain a bit of ground on them. We were going to put some points on them there.”
Hoping to obtain critical mass and to move on up that NASCAR Cup ladder of 16, Bowyer knows both he and No. 14 Mustang are going to have to keep the bad luck and misfortune in his rearview mirror.
“Fast forward to last weekend at Michigan, where I placed 37th,” he continued. “The same things happened. Those guys were having trouble. We were running right there up front and we make a pit stop. We’re back there a little ways and making our way back up to the front and got wiped out. Again, we lost our advantage and should have netted-out much better points-wise, but hey, that’s racing. You’re only as good as your last race and that one is now behind us. It wasn’t very good, but we’ll show up here at Bristol and buckle down and race like we are capable of racing. The capability is there, we just have to put it together.”
2019 has provided the backdrop for the entrance of the Ford Motor Co. muscle car of the ages, the Mustang. And while the new machine has performed well for some drivers this summer, Bowyer and crew are still working away at getting it all sorted out.
“Last year was so fun and so awesome. For the organization it was, by far, the best season they’ve ever had with all four cars in victory lane. Yeah, this year has been a struggle,” he admits. “Anytime you bring something new, it takes a while to learn it. The Mustang was definitely new this year, so that was new to the Ford camp. All the while, though, we built our car in preparation for the rule book, which we had in our hands when we built the car.
“Fast forward to the off-season and the Mustang has already been built. It was built and designed for the old aero package and everything else. Now it has way more downforce because of the smaller spoiler and everything else. We’re trying to get that aero balance back and get that hot rod back to where it has a good balance and the adjustments make sense and things like that. We still fight that to this day. Those things take time. We’re getting a handle on it. You’re starting to see some Fords creep into victory lane with my teammates and things like that, but to get that spread throughout the organization and throughout the other teams, it takes some time.
“The strategy and everything else plays into it. The tires don’t wear out. Eventually you have to come in and take gas, but then we have to make the decision to take four tires or two tires or no tires and fuel only. It’s become a huge strategy game, so we’ve made some mistakes there and put ourselves in bad situations and the next thing you know, the driver is in a wreck. We just have to smooth all those decisions out and make the decisions to our advantage.”
Having strung together three straight top-10 finishes at the 0.533-mile oval that Dale Jarrett once proclaimed was like “flying a get inside a gymnasium,” Bowyer will be ready to rock under the lights tonight.
“Hell yeah, Bristol is awesome,” grins Bowyer. “It’s one of my favorite racetracks. I think if anything can turn us around, it’s a short track. Short tracks have always been my bread and butter and in my wheelhouse. I love this place, man.”