Clint Bowyer’s 2017 playoff chances come down to the final 400 laps of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup regular season Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. If the first-year Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver is going to be part of the battle for the championship, he’ll need to win Saturday night in Virginia.
It’s a tall order.
“We know it isn’t going to be easy, but I’m never going to give up and nobody on this No. 14 team will give up until the checkered flag flies Saturday night,” said Bowyer. “Ever since we began the season, we’ve said we needed a win to get into the playoffs. That’s our mindset this weekend.”
While the odds might be against Bowyer, he has a few things in his favor. He loves the Richmond track and statistics show it is one of his best. The Emporia, Kansas native owns two victories, four top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 24 starts at the .75-mile, D-shaped oval. He’s also won a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond in 2007.
In April, Bowyer started eighth and raced sixth late in the race before a commitment-cone violation with 81 laps remaining left him with a 15th-place finish. He hopes to rekindle the short-track magic from his past and combine it with his current SHR Ford chassis and a powerful Roush-Yates engine.
“If I had to pick a track where I think we can get a victory, then it might be Richmond,” Bowyer said. “The old girl has been good to us in the past and it would be pretty cool if she could treat us well one more time.”
Bowyer’s No. 14 team at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has scored the 11th-most points of any team in 2017, even outscoring five of the 16 drivers currently in playoff positions. But winning takes precedence over points in determining the 16-driver playoff field and, with 13 different winners this season, only three drivers will likely transfer into the playoffs based on points if Saturday night’s winner at Richmond is not a first-time winner in 2017.
Bowyer says he believes his No. 14 team is better than several teams that have clinched playoff spots. But the all-important victory has remained elusive in 2017.
“We knew it was all about winning going in,” he said. “There are some guys in the playoffs we have outrun just about every race this season, but they managed to get a victory and we haven’t. That’s the way the system is. As I have said all along, we knew we had to win to get into the playoffs.”
Bowyer visits Richmond after early engine issues left him with a 40th-place finish at Darlington (S.C) Raceway last weekend. The finish kept him in 17th place in the championship standings but 91 points behind 16th place with no chance to make up the difference in a single race.
“Obviously, the way the playoffs look right now, we’re not out of this thing,” he said. “We’ve still got a good racetrack coming up for us. We’ll just go there and do the best we can and put all the cards on the table over there.”
No matter what happens Saturday night at Richmond, Bowyer has enjoyed a successful inaugural season at SHR replacing three-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Ford. Bowyer has posted three second-place finishes, two third-place finishes and 10 top-10s.
But, a first-place finish and the accompanying playoff berth Saturday night would make the season even better.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
There has to be a sense of urgency for you this weekend at Richmond?
“You come to all these racetracks with an urgency to win, just like we did at the Daytona 500. Richmond is a good track for us. We’ll go there and do the best we can.”
What are your thoughts about the season so far?
“Obviously, we’ve gotten close a few times with some second places, but that’s the first loser. We’ve got to be able to seal the deal but, as I said from the beginning of the year, it’s all about winning our first race. We haven’t been able to do that. I’m focused more on that. I care more about that. Obviously, having a chance to win a championship and everything else but, for me, I need to win to be able to solidify myself as a contender, but we need to be leading laps. We need to be doing that the right way. I don’t want to back into it on a fuel-mileage deal or a lucky situation, a situational thing. I want to be able to have those announcers talking about me all day long and carry that through to the end of the night.”