I think one of the things NASCAR fans don’t get is how hard it is to win a race in any of the three national series-es. The racing is competitive and being at front of the checkered flag is a combination of preparation, skill and a healthy dose of luck. Sure all things aren’t equal across the garage in terms of resources afforded to each team, but these are drivers racing at stock-car racing’s top levels. In most cases, they are there because they have proven their mettle.
So, despite what some folks have said and the fact that he was mired in a 190-race winless streak, Clint Bowyer did not forget how to drive a Monster Cup racecar. This is a guy who had, before Sunday’s win in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, eight premier series wins to go along with eight Xfinity Series and three truck series wins.
I get there will always be questions when a guy goes a presidential administration and a half without a win: does he still have what it takes to be competitive? Was he ever really that good or was the scale weighted more on the luck end when he was competitive?
In Bowyer’s case there are some extenuating circumstances that contributed to the half-decade funk. He got caught up in the 2013 Richmond fall race fiasco when he deliberately caused a caution to affect the outcome of the race and the drivers in the Chase for that year’s champion. He was driving for Michael Waltrip Racing at the time and the spin caused Ryan Newman to lose control on a race he had in hand and put teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase.
NASCAR, upon review of MWR’s radio chatter and other shenanigans, threw Truex out of the Chase and put Jeff Gordon in. MWR never fully recovered from the lack of exposure of being in that Chase (and, admittedly, other factors), cut one of its three teams for 2014 and then folded after the 2015 campaign. Bowyer spent a year with an under-funded HScott Motorsports team before moving over to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. Essentially, you had a talented racecar driver who lost a large chunk out of the mid section of his career due to unstable situations.
Since he landed at SHR, the results have shown me that the boy from Kansas is still a racer, even if it came in flashes last year, Bowyer had six top fives (his most since 2013) and 14 top 10 finishes. But not winning or qualifying for the playoffs wore on Bowyer and made him question his place at SHR.
“And the worry, man,” Bowyer said. “That’s when you start panicking, and I’m not going to lie. Everybody knows, last year that was a lot of panic on my behalf, on (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz’s) behalf, everybody’s behalf. I mean, we’re expected to perform.”
In this year’s six races, he has the win, two top fives, three top 10s and is currently eighth in points and locked into his first playoffs since 2013.
“We’ve got this opportunity (last year) and we just couldn’t put it all together,” Bowyer said. “I’m telling you, this year racing is fun again.”
I admit it, I like Bowyer. He is a fun guy. His press conference proved that. The way he entered the media center in Martinsville — “hooping and hollering,” as SB Nation put it — proved it. Seeing him celebrate with his son Cash was also cool and a bit of tearjerker. This was Bowyer’s first win since he became a father.
“I was starting to reflect on this, and the one thing that’s always missing is a picture with (his son, Cash), you know, and that’s where it changes your thought process and actually your reasoning for racing,” Bowyer said. “A lot of people want to think about these kids as being a distraction to drivers and to athletes. You start to think about what really matters in life, and the one thing that I didn’t want him to go through life as is not to know what this was all about.”
As someone who has never won a Cup race, I can’t fully relate, but as a father, I can. And it makes me like the guy even more.
I saw a bunch of people whining on social media about NASCAR’s decision to postpone Sunday’s race until Monday due to six inches of snow (come on, people). I’ll say that, after nearly six years, one extra day was worth the wait for Bowyer.
And it was for this race fan.
Follow Andy Cagle on twitter at @andy_cagle or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.