Bowyer back on podium as he enjoys revival with Stewart-Haas Racing

Photo by Harold Hinson Photography

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

FONTANA, Calif. – Clint Bowyer couldn’t remember the last time he had made the podium after a regular-season race when Brad Keselowski asked him on Sunday.

Keselowski meant it in jest. But seriously though, Bowyer hadn’t been needed for a post-race interview with the media since he finished third at Daytona in July of 2015. But the newest member of Stewart-Haas Racing was there fielding questions after his third-place run in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.

“It’s just the opportunity you’ve been waiting on,” Bowyer said. “You know, I mean, everybody knows the situation. You know, this opportunity, this is something I signed up for a year and a half ago.

“I’ve been chomping at the bit to be with an organization like this, to have an army of people behind you like this, the teammates, the sponsors we have, the manufacturer in Ford, all of that.”

 

Bowyer drove for HScott Motorsports in 2016 while he waited for Tony Stewart to vacate the No. 14 car at the end of last year. The Emporia, Kansas native endured the worst season of his career with the underfunded team.

He couldn’t wait to join an organization, which has two drivers in Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick who have combined for two titles and 64 victories. Stewart, now a full-time owner, recorded three Cup titles before he retired at the end of last season.

“It’s the total package at Stewart‑Haas Racing, which is why they’ve won a championship and win all these races that we see,” Bowyer said. “That’s what you thrive to be a part of. Finally got my opportunity to be there.”

Bowyer hasn’t won since 2012 but turned out to be the highest finisher among his SHR teammates. He started Sunday’s race 17th and for the first time this season, he earned points in every stage as he notched his second top 10 of 2017.

“It was just a good weekend,” said Bowyer, whose other top 10 came at Las Vegas three weeks ago. “I appreciate everybody’s hard work at Stewart-Haas Racing. Having these teammates and having this group behind you, the organization and the teamwork, it’s just amazing to be a part of it at this point in my career.

“It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder, and we’re getting closer,” Bowyer said.

Notching his first top 5 since Aug. 22, 2015, at Bristol with Michael Waltrip Racing, will do that.

“I’m just having fun again,” Bowyer said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s a big difference from last season, when he hit career lows in several categories: top 10s (3), average finish (23.61) and final standings (27th).

“It means a lot to me to be in this 14,” said Bowyer, who owns eight Cup wins. “I have a lot of fun with these guys.”

Bowyer did admit that it is still a little weird to have Stewart, a former competitor on the pit box these days.

“To give me the opportunity is super cool,” said Bowyer of Stewart, who drove in the Cup series for 18 years.  “To have him on the box is really cool.  It’s neat to see a smile on his face.  I really believe he just looks happy.  You know, he looks comfortable, you know, at ease.  I mean, the guy, that’s a long time.

“That’s a long career to be in any kind of sport.  He put his time in.  He’s an owner now, still a part of it.  That’s the coolest thing about his gig right now, is he’s still a part of this sport.  Maybe in the biggest way he’s ever been.”

Bowyer said he is now looking forward to next weekend’s race at Martinsville, which is near to his North Carolina home.

“Another one of my favorite tracks,” he said. “It’s 40 minutes from the house.  You know, finally get home to see my family and everything else.  To bring everybody up there, drive to the racetrack every day, sleep in your own bed, I mean, it’s just a fun, fun weekend.  Fun racetrack.

“It’s old school racing at its finest.  I’ve been close so many times there.  It’s one that I want to win more than anything. With this momentum and the confidence that we take from here, maybe we can.”

 

 

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