Let us re-introduce you to Clint Bowyer.
You might remember him. He finished second in the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and third in the 2007 title chase. He has eight NASCAR Cup Series victories and won the 2008 NASCAR Xfinity Series title after leaving his hometown of Emporia, Kansas for racing glory in 2004.
He’s NASCAR’s everyman, whose collar is as blue as his Kansas City Royals hat and his smile as wide as a wheat field.
He’s been quiet the last two seasons, but that only proves how much of a team sport NASCAR is these days. Midway through 2015, his two-car Michael Waltrip Racing team announced it was going out of business at the end of the season. In 2016, Bowyer, needing a temporary home before joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2017, drove for an HScott Motorsports team that was still early in its development.
Out of sight usually means out of mind in NASCAR, but Bowyer will be front and center in 2017. He’ll climb into a car worthy of his skill as he replaces the retired and future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in SHR’s No. 14 Ford Fusion under the leadership of second-year crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz. After engineering a playoff appearance with Stewart in 2016, expectations of pairing Bowyer with “Buga” – the only rookie crew chief in the 2016 playoffs – are sky high in 2017.
Bowyer will make his SHR debut Feb. 26 driving the No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion in NASCAR’s most prestigious event – the 59th running of the Daytona 500.
“This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had,” Bowyer said. “Everybody knows that. Getting in the No. 14 Ford isn’t easy. It’s going to be a challenge. The first thing you think about is Tony’s fan base. There are a whole lot of people I don’t want to let down. I want to make all those people proud of the No. 14 this year, proud of me being in that No. 14, and proud of Tony’s decision to put me in it this year. The pressure is probably there but, to be honest with you, from where I’ve come to looking forward to this opportunity for more than a year, there’s more excitement than pressure.”
Bowyer won’t be the only new addition to SHR in 2017. Since its inception in 2009, SHR has posted 36 victories and two championships with Stewart and Kevin Harvick, so it came as a bit of a shock to the motorsports world when it was announced in February 2016 that SHR would welcome Ford Performance as the four-car team’s manufacturer beginning in 2017. The move should provide a boost under the hood and in aerodynamics, as well as in the SHR engineering meetings with the global motorsports company bringing its expertise to its Kannapolis, North Carolina, operation. As the sport grows, the long-term alliance of SHR and Ford Performance could lead to the next wave of dominance that Bowyer expects to surf for the next several years.
If the SHR-Ford-Bowyer combination bears the fruit many expect, then Bowyer’s return to prominence will be a boon to NASCAR. The former dirt racer can boast success on every type of track the series visits. Four of his eight career NASCAR Cup Series victories have come on short tracks, two on restrictor-plate tracks, one on an ultra-fast 1.5-mile track and one on a road course. He’s won everywhere and he’s won in everything. Three times he’s finished in the top-five in the standings and earned eight victories in the Xfinity Series and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Chasing checkered flags is what has driven Bowyer since racing dirt bikes in Kansas. He proved proficient at collecting trophies as he transitioned from two wheels to four, from dirt to asphalt, from Xfinity to Cup. Another trophy and another checkered flag is what drives Bowyer, and from the cockpit of his No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion, he’s in the best position to secure those highly-sought items.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What does the Daytona 500 mean to you?
“This is the biggest race of the year. It’s the race everyone wants to win. You know we have spent a lot of time talking about the stages and new format this offseason but, for this race, throw all that out the window. I’m here to win this Daytona 500. I can’t wait. I have a new opportunity with a new race team. It’s a new everything for me so I’m going down there to work hard in every practice session and get myself prepared to win this baby. I’m hungry and I want to go out there and get established right off the bat as a frontrunner with our team. And I think, ‘Hey, I think I can win the Daytona 500.’ I’ve come close many times.”
How predictable is the Daytona 500?
“It’s one of those things where you can be leading coming to the white flag and finish 15th to 20th. I’ve done that. I’ve also been way back in the pack, then somehow picked my way through it on the last lap and got a good, solid finish. It’s a rollercoaster, just like it has been with everybody. I mean, that’s what the Daytona 500 is. You go from thinking, ‘I got ’em!’ to ‘Oh, no! How have we done so wrong?’ I mean, it’s just one of those emotional rollercoaster races where you just never know what’s going to happen. I had the thing won in 2010, and they literally used the Bondo out of the haulers to fix the track. I didn’t win that year but, before that happened, I just knew I had it won. Whether it’s a track surface, somebody hitting a jet dryer and blowing up, or coming down to a green-and-white checkered at the end, you just never know the recipe and what it’s going to take to win that ultra-special race.”
What are your thoughts on SHR?
“These are the best teammates I’ve ever had, the best equipment I’ve ever had, the best ownership and a fantastic lineup of sponsors. Everything is here. That’s what will breed all of the success. When Tony Stewart and Gene Haas hire you and put you in a car that Tony drove to a championship, that gives you a great deal of confidence. It was a huge confidence booster and it’s what I needed.”
Why do you say you feel more excitement than pressure in 2017?
“You know, you walk into SHR and you see everyone busting their rear ends to make this transition to Ford. Doug Yates (President and CEO of Roush Yates Engines) was at the shop the other day and I laughed because I’ve had my butt whupped by his horsepower for a lot of years, especially on restrictor-plate tracks. I always took notes on how well those Roush Yates engines ran. I’m really looking forward to getting that horsepower under the hood. You see how much success (Ford drivers) Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) have had with these aero packages. You go back to having teammates – particularly teammates like the ones I now have at SHR. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, who each bring a lot to the table. I think they will help me be a better racecar driver and ultimately more successful. That’s all exciting.”
Is joining SHR the year it moves to Ford good timing?
“If you are going to change, you might as well change everything. If there was ever a culture that was a great fit for me, it’s SHR. It seems like everybody at SHR is someone I’ve either worked with before or I’m already friends with. It’s just a perfect fit. The culture is me. They take care of business and have a lot of fun doing it. That’s what I love that about SHR. I think I’ll fit in well. With the transition to Ford, the thing I’ve noticed right off the bat is you are talking to the head honchos. Raj Nair (Executive Vice President of Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer) is the guy who brought Ford Performance to what it is today. Whether it’s a meeting at the shop or going over to Ford Performance, he and his counterparts are the ones you talk with, making sure you have what you need to be successful at the racetrack. That means a lot to a racecar driver.”