Clint Bowyer is no longer an afterthought in NASCAR, and he couldn’t be happier. He’s finally back in a car capable of winning races.
Bowyer is among the surprise stories early on in the NASCAR season, contending for wins for the first time in years. This is a guy who last won in October 2012, a stretch of 155 races.
But Bowyer has resurrected his career by taking over for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Bowyer has had as many top-10 runs in the last four races (three) as he had all of last season, including a third-place run two weeks ago at Fontana.
That’s why Bowyer is a threat to win Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he will start third, matching his best starting position in 23 Texas starts. Nobody is having more fun or driving with more confidence.
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Certainly an exciting year, a fun year, an anticipated year for me. ... You always want to be contending for wins. That’s what they pay us for.
Clint Bowyer, who will start third in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
“Certainly an exciting year, a fun year, an anticipated year for me,” said Bowyer, whose best finish at Texas was runner up in the spring 2011 race.
“Things are going good, things are going relatively smooth. You always want to be better. You always want to be contending for wins. That’s what they pay us for. So far, so good.
“It’s fun to go to the race shop every week and talk about what we’re going to do to get better for the following week.”
Bowyer couldn’t say the same in recent years.
He found himself in no man’s land, switching teams and middling away in the middle of the pack. He finished 16th-or-worse in the standings the past three years.
His downfall can be traced to the infamous “itch” incident in September 2013 at Richmond International Raceway.
NASCAR determined that Bowyer intentionally spun his car to bring out a caution in the final laps, a move designed to help his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., make the playoffs.
MWR lost a car and sponsor after that, as Truex headed to Furniture Row Racing. Bowyer raced for MWR in 2015, and the team shut down after the season.
Bowyer raced last season for HScott Motorsports, biding his time until Stewart retired from Cup racing. Bowyer posted only three top-10 runs after having at least double-digit top-10s the previous 10 years.
I definitely feel his pain. I understand what he went through. It’s definitely good to see him back.
Martin Truex Jr., about Bowyer, his former teammate
“I definitely feel his pain. I understand what he went through,” said Truex, his former teammate. “It’s definitely good to see him back. He’s such a cool guy, nice guy, friend of mine. Nice to see him having success. I know what it’s like to have those tough years and try to battle through it and people kind of write you off.
“But it’s cool to see him competitive again. I’ve enjoyed racing with him the last couple of weeks. I’m sure it won’t be the last we see of ol’ Bowyer this year.”
It shouldn’t be as SHR is one of the most competitive teams in the sport. They boast a pair of championship-winning drivers in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, and one of the most popular drivers in Danica Patrick.
Bowyer has fit into that group well and has formed a nice tandem with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, Stewart’s old crew chief. Bowyer and Bugarewicz may be opposites on the personality scale, but each is driven to succeed.
As Stewart put it, “Buga is the right guy for him.”
And SHR is the right team for Bowyer, a team where he can be himself and contend on Sundays. Bowyer is back to making headlines for the right reasons.
“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, whether it was my first opportunity in this sport or my last,” Bowyer said. “This is the opportunity you are giddy about no matter where you are in your career.”
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
12:30 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4