Clint Bowyer hopes that his performance at Darlington Raceway is a snapshot of things to come for his team and leads to some playoff momentum.
Bowyer had a clean night to finish sixth, gaining points and jumping back inside the playoff grid going into the final week of the regular season. While he didn’t lead a lap, Bowyer scored points in Stage 2 and felt his overall single-digit result demonstrated what the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team is capable.
“Yes, it is,” said Bowyer on gaining points to put himself plus eight on the cutline going to Indianapolis. “That was the task at hand; we put ourselves back in position. Yes, I want to make the playoffs, but I want to make the playoffs (and) get past the first round and hit that thing in stride and race to our capabilities. Tonight was our capability. Single-digit finishes we’re capable of rattling off.
“This was a good shot in the arm, a momentum boost for our race team going into that last race in Indy, and if we can do that again is what I’m looking for. Because again, you always have to be looking down the road. Yes, the task at hand is right here in front of us … making the playoffs. But man, to be honest with you, my eye is on making those playoffs and getting through that first round. It’s kind of like racing on this racetrack – you’re racing that guy in front of you, but you always got your eye on the guy in front of him as well.”
Just because Bowyer had a clean night doesn’t mean it was without some excitement. In Stage 2 as Bowyer fought to grab some stage points, he had a fierce battle for position with Jimmie Johnson. When the two made slight contact and got out of shape, both Erik Jones and Kyle Larson went by for position.
Before things could continue to go too far south, a caution soon after the incident ensured Bowyer and Johnson of finishing inside the top 10 and scoring points. Bowyer was credited with being sixth in the stage, which was worth five points.
“You’re just holding on,” Bowyer said of the battle. “I pushed it too hard on the front side of that run, you get out there in that clean air, and the old girl wants to run. That was our deficit kind of all weekend, was front turn, it’s kind of been the M.O. for us and our organization. We’ve been fighting that. But that was a lesson learned there.
“I pushed it too hard on the front side of that trying to get those stage points, and it cost me three of four sports at least, and then obviously the situation there at the end with Jimmie just trying to hold on, fend for spots. He’s doing everything he can to make the playoffs, and we are too. You don’t want to race those guys that. He’s one of my old heroes, a good friend, but that’s all out of the window when you’re on the racetrack.”
Bowyer is 15th on the playoff grid now ahead of teammate Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, who are tied for the last spot. Jimmie Johnson is 18 points behind. The final two playoff spots will be decided this weekend at Indianapolis.