It had been quite some time since we last saw Clint Bowyer in Victory Lane.
But finally, after clicking his fireproof shoes together three times and saying, “there’s no place like home,” he indeed found his way “home” to the Winner’s Circle. Bowyer’s popular victory put an end to his 190-race winless streak. It means the No. 14 car will be in the NASCAR playoffs once again, and he will be eligible to compete for the title for the seventh time in his career.
The victory, though, is a big deal for other reasons. And no, it isn’t just because Bowyer drank a beer with some fans after the race.
I appreciate all the comments! They mean more to me than any trophy ever will. I promise I’ll answer them all later. As for now, there’s an ass load of bad decisions fixing to go down. I better put this thing away! ?
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) March 27, 2018
Q: What makes Clint Bowyer’s win at Martinsville such a big deal? – Teddy S., Nashville
A: Bowyer is one of the most unique drivers in the NASCAR garage. He’s as authentic as it gets. Whenever you speak to him, you’re getting the real person, not just a PR-type guy.
His victory brings the No. 14 car back into the playoffs, a major stepping stone after the team missed it last year. Now, owner Tony Stewart’s legacy can at least continue with Bowyer, his replacement, knowing he made the right decision.
Sure, it took 42 races for Bowyer to get a win with Stewart-Haas Racing, but he finally did it. He can now say to potential sponsors that he still has it. The Kansas native can still get the job done.
Bowyer led more laps (215) in Monday’s postponed STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway than he did over the course of the previous four seasons (145). It shows that SHR’s hard work and determination to get the No. 14 team back to the top level has worked and will continue to do so.
In 2017, he had three runner-up finishes. However, he never could seal the deal. Why? Well, there was just a little bit missing in the team’s performance. The consistency wasn’t there.
This time around, though, things are different.
Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz understands what Bowyer is looking for. This might be the most stable No. 14 team he’s had to deal with since becoming the leader of the squad in 2016. That year, Stewart missed the first eight races of his final season, putting Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers into the car. When Stewart did return, he won his final Cup race at Sonoma, locking himself into the playoffs.
“Buga” led the team to a win, five top fives and eight top 10s between the three pilots before Bowyer came on last year. It then missed the playoffs in 2017, earning an average finish of 15.5 in Bowyer’s first year with SHR.
Through six races in 2018, Bowyer has an average result of ninth and sits eighth in the standings. His performance is exceeding expectations, which is vastly important as he tries to secure his future.
At 38, he’s no youngster. This is a contract year, and Bowyer needs to prove his stock in order for SHR to keep him around.
Team co-owner Gene Haas is backing this team much more than he had to when Stewart was around. Haas Automation, Haas’ company, was featured on the No. 14 car in 19 of 36 contests last year and has been on it three times already this season.
Haas Automation also served as the primary sponsor in 17 races for Kurt Busch last year, while Monster Energy stepped up to sponsor the remaining 19 contests. That’s not including Haas’ secondary sponsorship for those 19 events.
Bowyer’s ninth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series triumph gives him a glimmer of hope moving forward. He now has something to pitch to potential partners, a stat that cannot be overstated in a sport that preaches winning is everything.
Who knows what will happen next? Maybe the marketing folks at Anheuser Busch will be convinced to invest in Bowyer’s team, in addition to Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 machine. After all, he does seem to enjoy the company’s product just a bit.
Q: Who has impressed you the most to start the Cup season? – Judith R., Charlotte
A: Believe it or not, Alex Bowman is the highest-ranked driver out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable to start the season. The new driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet is the most consistent within the four-car team through six races, and he showed he can get the job done already.
Bowman sits 14th in the standings. While he only has one top 10 at Martinsville, where he finished a respectable seventh, he’s been able to run in the top 15 on a weekly basis. It’s not amazing, but it is getting the job done when his teammates are still struggling to turn the corner.
Meanwhile, another driver who is impressing is Paul Menard. The latest driver to take the wheel behind the famed No. 21 machine isn’t doing what Ryan Blaney did behind-the-wheel, nor did anyone think he would. But Menard clearly needed a new gig, and this seems to be a good fit. He’s competing for a top 15 on a weekly basis, just like Bowman. It’s an awfully similar start to the one he had at Richard Childress Racing in 2012 when he had an average finish of 16.17 through his first six races with the team. Currently, he is averaging a result of 16.7 to start the year.
While the No. 21 team appears to have some strong moments during the race weekend, Menard lacks the ability to close the deal with the same strength. He’s been running in the top 10 for chunks at a time, but can’t seal the deal. If he can improve just a bit, we might see the No. 21 car return to Victory Lane.
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